In this thesis, I look at the ways in which statehood comes to be defined, practiced, and performed through Syrian war-time migrants’ “repatriation” in Abkhazia, a small breakaway self-proclaimed state squeezed between Russia and Georgia.1I argue that while separatist states’ desires and aspirations towards statehood grant legitimacy to the modern nation-state system, they at once expose the fragility of its very order. An unrecognized state like Abkhazia still maneuvers within the system that it is locked out of, but the way that Abkhazia, like other unrecognized states, is shunned from the ‘family of nations’ could reveal how constructed and hallucinatory the modern state-order is. In another sense, looking at Abkhazian state performativity, or the fictitious aura that arises from the notion of an Abkhazian nationality, can tell us about the taken-for-granted fictitious characters of other states. While I use the word “fictitious” here, it is important to acknowledge, as Trouillot reminds us, that the “fictitious” has very real, felt consequences in the everyday lives of people.2The point is not to make an anomaly out of Abkhazia because it is an unrecognized state because, ultimately, most administrative practices in that space are not different from other states and their own practices of make-believeness, a term coined by Yael Navaro-Yashin.3 In other words, what can the theatrical and ritualistic practices of Abkhazian statehood around the Syrian war-time migrants tell us about similar practices in other, both unrecognized and recognized, states? From here on, one can conjure questions on what it means for a state to be sovereign within a certain territory, as well as questions that delve deeper into how it is that subjects of states imagine (or feel) the entity and/or notion of the state to begin with. How does this state project manifest itself in the movement of people across (un)recognized borders, in document production, and in the rhetoric of war? My argument therefore also entails the problematization of a variety of taken-for-granted categories, including ethno-national categories, the classification of “the refugee,” the state, the nation, as well as that of war. The idea is that these categories, often considered “problem categories,” stem from and float around the concept of the “state.” Yet, this thesis posits the prospect that the state is the problem category.4My thesis also branches from conceptualizing the corporeal practices of the state to include war-making and document production as nation-building practices. Both such practices also contribute to the generation of “state-less peoples,” or “refugees.” This thesis is split into six parts, each of which I detail with its own abstract immediately below.


School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Sociology, Egyptology & Anthroplology Department

Degree Name

MA in Sociology-Anthropology

Graduation Date

Fall 9-6-2016

Submission Date


First Advisor

Rustom, Hakem

Committee Member 1

Sabea, Hanan

Committee Member 2

Khayyat, Munira


157 leaves

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Approval has been obtained for this item

Included in

Anthropology Commons