For Other Logistical Worlds: Accretion and Infrastructure in the Making of Anaklia Port*

Evelina Gambino, University of Cambridge

For the past decade, the village of Anaklia has been set to become a transit node for goods and people, aimed at positioning Georgia as a key juncture amongst global logistics networks. This short intervention builds on insights from the ethnographic fieldwork performed in and around Anaklia between 2017 and 2019. It shows that fragments of an abject past are visible in the friction between global and local practices of future-making that came to populate Anaklia. These fragments, despite being ostensibly ignored by the contemporary promise of seamless connectivity waged by the future hub, underwrite its construction and sustain its developers’ claims to expertise. As the pursuit of logistical connectivity becomes the organizing principle for ever larger parts of the global economy, this ethnographic inquiry can work against the grain of Georgia’s recent ‘logistical revolution’ towards a global reading of the forms of alterity produced by contemporary regimes of accumulation.

The village of Anaklia is at the northwestern edge of the Republic of Georgia in the South Caucasus, only a few kilometers from Abkhazia, a de facto state and site of multiple conflicts since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the past decade, this small settlement has been set to become a transit node for goods and people, aimed at positioning Georgia as a key juncture amongst global logistics networks. The infrastructural development of this site between 2015 and 2019, that included plans to build the largest deep seaport in the country, a smart city and a free industrial zone, was conducted through a public-private partnership between the Georgian government and the Anaklia Development Consortium, a multinational corporation composed of TBC, Georgia’s largest private bank, and the United States company Conti Group.

During this period, the future projected on Anaklia by its developers contained a promise of newness and progress, intermixed into a futurism of sorts. The transformation of this marginal village into a logistics hub was described as of the “project of the century” 1 capable of catapulting the country into prosperity. The developments resonated simultaneously with the emerging global script of connectivity: the language of logistics made of measuring units unknown to the lay observer, such as the TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit, the measure of a container’s capacity), references to faraway places and processes, such as the one implied by the name ‘post-Panamax’ used to describe a type of vessel so big that it did not fit into the original locks of the Panama Canal, and shared fetishes, such as the widespread appreciation of the simple object that is the shipping container. Fragments of an abject past are visible in the friction between global and local futurisms that came to populate Anaklia. As Nikhil Anand has suggested, “infrastructures accrete. They gather and crumble incrementally and slowly, over time, through labor that is at once ideological and material.” 2 It is with these accretions that this short text is concerned.

During a meeting with Keti Bochorishvili, the chief executive officer of Anaklia City, the smart metropolis and business center planned to rise on Anaklia’s wetlands, she shared with me her excitement for the boundless experimentation that is set to give life to this “city yet to come.”3 Keti remarked that “Anaklia is perfect!” as a space of experiment. This is because, unlike the rest of the country, “we do not risk destroying anything! There is simply nothing there!” In contrast to Bochorishvili’s statement, this paper points instead to how the past – and the visions of the future that populated it – interacts with the present activities in Anaklia on different scales. Similar to all places, contemporary Anaklia is a site where multiple layers of relationships and powers intersect. In particular, unlike Bochorishvili’s appreciation of this territory as an open frontier where experiments could take place unbound by a concern for existing lifeworlds, I will show that the contemporary promise of seamless connectivity waged by the future hub is based on a simultaneous disavowal of and dependency on the (re)productive nexus that sustains the lifeworlds it seeks to envelop.

This short intervention builds on insights from the ethnographic fieldwork that I have performed in and around Anaklia and other infrastructural sites between 2017 and 2019 as part of my PhD. What I aim to sketch is a certain kind of work upon which infrastructural futures depend. This work ties the recent and more distant history of post-Soviet Georgia into a weave deployed by different agents of capitalist accumulation in order to make their promised futures look smooth.4 Amidst efforts to portray this borderland as an autonomous and “international” location, the singularity of Anaklia’s history is reactivated by contemporary infrastructural efforts.5 Attention to this singularity, as Tariq Jazeel has recently argued, contributes to a decolonial geography of the present, one that works through “fragments that present tantalising cues to other histories” 6 and which are scattered within the dominant textualizations of the worlds we inhabit. As the pursuit of logistical connectivity becomes the organizing principle for ever larger parts of the global economy 7, this ethnographic inquiry can work against the grain of Georgia’s recent ‘logistical revolution’ towards a global reading of the forms of alterity produced by contemporary regimes of accumulation.


Image 1: Abandoned Soviet-era tea plantation in Kakhati, West Georgia, 2019 (source: author’s photograph, Evelina Gambino)
Image 1: Abandoned Soviet-era tea plantation in Kakhati, West Georgia, 2019 (source: author’s photograph, Evelina Gambino)

During my fieldwork in Anaklia, I sought to explore the actual, existing infrastructural relationships that underwrote the futuristic projects investing the village. While no large infrastructure was ever built in Anaklia, the village has, nevertheless, developed in relationship to the complex infrastructural networks of the Soviet rural economy. When speaking about the previous organization of life in Anaklia, my interlocutors would often start their recollection by saying: “ადრე როცა აქ იყო მეურნეობა” (before when there was a rural economy here). The Georgian word ‘meurneoba’ (მეურნეობა) can indicate the organization of any kind of substantive economy, from the household and agriculture to “virtually any nexus of production and need fulfilment.”8 The term is related to the noun ‘meurne’ that means ‘guardian/manager’ and, in some cases, ‘carer.’9 Unlike the English word ‘economy,’ that, as many have argued, has come to describe a sphere of calculations and the accounting of money, considered separate from the needs-based organization of life10, ‘meurneoba’ groups together all of the activities geared at the production and reproduction of a determinate space – from the household to the factory/plantation to regional organization. As such, it is used in combination with different nouns to indicate a wide variety of organizational forms: ‘msoflio (world) meurneoba,’ for instance, indicates ‘the global economy.’ However, it is mostly used in reference to the activities composing the ‘rural economy.’ It was often deployed during the Soviet Union with the prefix ‘kol,’ a shortening of ‘kolmeurneoba’ (collective), to indicate the collectivized agricultural production around which the Soviet rural economy was structured. The composite noun ‘soflis-meurneoba,’ preceded by the word ‘sofeli’ (village), instead, means agriculture. Nowadays, this last meaning is very common, even when the term is used on its own. Reducing this complex noun exclusively to agriculture, however, risks erasing the lifeworlds and epistemologies that converge within it. The socioeconomic activities taking place in and around Anaklia during the Soviet Union are all described by my informants as contained within a ‘meurneoba’; such rural activities, however, are inclusive of industrial relations, reproductive practices and an organizational sense of place that is lost by translating their description simply as agriculture.

When the word ‘meurneoba’ is used to describe organizational forms that took place during the Soviet Union, what emerges is a conjunction between the reproductive nexus of rural lifeworlds and large-scale logistical planning. Stephen Collier describes the infrastructural networks that composed that gigantic system that was the Soviet Union in his study of post-Soviet biopolitics.11 Focusing on mundane structures, such as the pipes of the heating systems in a medium-sized industrial city, Collier argues that the Soviet system was assembled through a form of “infrastructural biopolitics,” where processes of production were inextricably linked to the provision of life of Soviet citizens and of the Union as a whole. The complex intersection of elements at the core of Soviet provision was summarized by the word ‘khoziaistvo.’12 This term describes ‘socioeconomic operations’ as a substantive nexus of (re)productive activities to be managed by Soviet internal organization. The Russian root ‘khoz,’ derived from the peasant’s household, is closely linked to problems of management, including the connotation of hospitality and ownership.13 The linking of reproductive needs to the productive elements of the economy within the Soviet system was, thus, the basis of an effort of total planning rendered possible through infrastructural biopolitics, providing the pulsating veins of the Soviet Union.14

Within the Soviet #meurneoba,’ therefore, similar to earlier rural organizations, what is expressed is not just a series of located productive activities, but the socioeconomic lifeworlds within which they were embedded and the logistics that kept them alive. What this terms describes is, therefore, a logistical effort in the most basic of senses.

According to Timothy Mitchell, a process of bordering is at the core of the creation of “the economy” in the early twentieth century. Distancing himself from Karl Polanyi’s seminal account of the nineteenth century’s “great transformation” 15 from substantive socioeconomics to the national economy 16, Mitchell places the creation of a separate realm of economic calculation some decades later. He argues that “Between the 1930s and 1950s, economists, sociologists, national statistical agencies, international and corporate organizations, and government programs formulated the concept of the economy, meaning the totality of monetarized exchanges within a defined space.”17 Rather than just a different way to account for things that were already happening, Mitchell argues, “the economy was made”18, and it is in this process that “boundaries between the monetary and the nonmonetary, national and foreign, consumption and investment, public and private, nature and technology, tangible and intangible, owner and nonowner” 19 were set as the borders of what belonged to the economic realm and what was external to it or, in many cases, an aberration.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, provided a new terrain for the reinstatement of such boundaries and the strengthening of economic rationality through the promotion of the market as a sphere of profit making, separate and above the reproduction of life.20 This mode of knowing and organizing the (re)production of life that had animated Soviet life, in substance, came to be dispossessed.21 Interestingly, as different scholars argue, the substantive nexus that Collier describes to be at the heart of Soviet infrastructural biopolitics was also the point of departure for the myriad of logistical underworlds that constituted the Soviet “second economy.”22 The informal networks that provided Soviet citizens with a lifeline of supplies and activities that were prohibited by state planning, often misrepresented as a latent form of ‘market economy,’ was, instead, moved by creative practices of needs fulfilment, reciprocity, exchange and more.23 The collapse of the Soviet Union, however, radically upset the workings and representation of these interwoven systems that came to be dispossessed from the proper order of society. Dispossession, however, as Collier shows, does not imply the disappearance of those biopolitical relationships that made up the now abject lifeworld of Soviet logistics. Sketching the ways in which this substantive nexus is reactivated by the promise of a logistical future helps to reveal the constructedness of seemingly smooth processes of accumulation.24

A modern khoziain?

“All projects should serve the human and his well-being. First of all, [projects] must change the life of local people radically, by increasing their income, their qualifications, job, and guaranteeing the future of their children. If all of this becomes true, it means that the port works, and that a serious contribution to Georgia’s economy has been made.”25
Mamuka Khazaradze, the then president of Anaklia Development Consortium and founder of TBC, Georgia’s largest and most profitable private bank, presented himself to the Anaklia Development Consortium’s Facebook followers with these words in September 2016. By placing his private enterprise at the service of people’s realization and prosperity the chief executive officer showcases the stewardship and pastoral care ostensibly at the core of its private Consortium. Notably, Khazaradze’s words stand in sharp contrast to the discourse of seamless logistical circulation that his corporation strives to embody. Dimitri Kumisishvili, former Minister of the Economy, commenting on Georgia’s commitment to become a node of logistical connectivity, proudly declared that, thanks to years of reforms, the country is now a place where businessmen are as free to invest as they are to pull their capital out without any fear of repercussions.26 These reforms provide the soft infrastructure for current logistical developments and, as often stated by different government and private actors, are the backbone to Georgia’s competitiveness.27 The logistification of Georgia’s economy is the last step in a much longer infrastructural rejection of state Socialism, operated by a decennial commitment to deregulation and privatization of key sectors of its economy.28 Khazardaze himself has certainly been a key beneficiary of these business-friendly reforms: his bank is at the forefront of the debt crisis that has been dispossessing large sections of the population since former president Mikheil Saakashvili lifted any restrictions to interest on household borrowing.29 In this context, it might be easy to discard Khazaradze’s words as hypocritical. Conversely, here I want to expose their resonance with another socioeconomic logic, the fragments of which still populate contemporary life in Georgia and that, in this case, serve as an invisible infrastructure sustaining the broken promises of logistical futurism.

Collier argues that after the collapse of the USSR, the fragmentation of Soviet khoziaistvo: “left unoccupied a crucial position in the moral economy of the Soviet and post-Soviet small city: the khoziain, that distinctive figure of Soviet neo-traditional authority. With the erosion of enterprise support for the “social” and “communal” spheres, the question was often raised (and still is raised): “kto v gorode khoziain?”—who in the city is the khoziain? This question means: Who will show concern for the health, welfare, and conditions of existence of each and every inhabitant of the city? Who will take care of our khoziaistvo?”30

The responsibility for managing the operations of khoziaistvo in the Soviet Union was assigned to a general director, the ‘khozian,’ in each district/enterprise. Understanding this figure, and its repurposing at the wake of Soviet collapse, can help us expose how the conjuring of idealized Soviet khoziaistvo/meurneoba still sustains visions of a post- and indeed anti- Soviet logistical future.

Rather than just an uncomplicated attempt to reinstate Soviet organizational practices, however, Watts notes that the evocation of khoziain as a missing provider of pastoral care has specifically late-Soviet roots.31 The discourse of perestroika, in particular, contained a promise of the restoration of a longed-for substantive management of a (re)production of the Soviet Union that had been lost in the years of thievery and incompetence that preceded glastnost.32 Real patrons were, thus, men who took pride in serving their community, as opposed to the existing managers who stole from it. The fragmentation of the entire system that followed Gorbachev’s reforms, however, left the hope for reinstating substantive management, as well as many others, frustrated. The post-Soviet longing for a real khoziain, therefore, emerges, to a large extent, from the transposition of a desire for an idealized figure of fair management from late state socialism to its successor: the market economy. The same ‘market economy’ that expelled care and reproductive practices from the calculations at its core. As Collier notes, it is indicative that “the question ‘kto v gorode khoziain?’ is most often posed when those who ought to play the role of the khoziain are somehow failing.”33 Rather than a specific person, therefore, often the search for a khoziain is the expression of a lack. Not necessarily antagonistic to the market, yet incorporating the productivist and pastoral ethics of Soviet planning and, before, of pre-Soviet rural economies.34 The post-Soviet khoziain, therefore, emerges from an “interesting polysemy between the founding principles of market economy, private property and enterprise, and the qualities of wisdom, fairness and stewardship that had inspired the reforms of the late Soviet Union.” 35 As such, as Watts notices, it became used by both the proponents of privatizations and citizens hoping for fairer conditions.

According to Hannah Appel, “rendering capitalism licit is, in part, about the ways we ethically partition responsibility for ‘others,’ and how those partitions are at once individually embodied and materialized in corporate planning.”36 It is within this ambiguity of the post-Soviet khoziain that Khazaradze positioned himself in his communications with different publics by feeding on Soviet memories and the desires left unrealized in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse.37 The substantive nexus, while nominally rejected in the name of market efficiency and competitiveness, is instead deployed by the top managers of the Anaklia Development Consortium to sustain the logistical future. These nostalgic echoes, incorporated in the speeches of Mamuka Khazaradze, the company’s chief executive officer, act as a “a source of energies, the condition of success, the possibility to reproduce” his own idea of the future.38

Khazaradze’s performance as a khoziain, appropriates memories of the past for its own needs and turns them into convenient mythologies. Tajana Thelen describes the maintenance of certain superficial care provisions in companies undergoing the transition from socialist to market economy in her study of veteran care in East Germany after the collapse of the GDR. As the company she observed underwent a profound reshaping, certain care provisions for their retired workers, such as the annual trip for former employees or New Year celebrations, were kept in place. Thelen’s interlocutors within the new management related to her that keeping these activities was no longer a matter of providing holistic care for the company employees, such as had been the case during Socialism, instead, it was starting to be understood as a matter of publicity and corporate social responsibility.39 Despite this shift, the limited care provision still in place came to be valued by its recipients very highly as “secular rituals”40 that reassure their belonging to the enterprise in the context of the crumbling social order within which most of their careers had developed. Such success amongst the retirees, Thelen concludes “is not based on the provision of better services, but rather on mimicking former state care, viewed as holistic and emotional.”41 Khazaradze’s claim to care is mobilized by a similar torsion of meaning and effective provision. Building on memories and desires for a substantivism ethos, it, nevertheless, distorts it through the prism of capitalist corporate managerialism.42

Rather than just belonging to a forgotten infrastructural underworld, the socioeconomic worlds of (post-)Soviet substantivity are channeled even by those in charge of developing the logistical future. A form of restorative nostalgia, however, does not work to actually materialize substantivity through appropriate provisions, instead, Khazaradze mimics a commitment to people’s well-being by imbuing his communications with powerful echoes of the post-Soviet khoziain.


“As gatherings, infrastructures are brought into being out of a multiplicity of historical forms and technopolitical relations that, while bound together, seldom fully cohere.”43
I have sketched throughout this text some of the ways in which Georgia’s logistical futures are overwritten 44 on the sedimented world of meurneoba. Not a straightforward relationship, the kinship of logistical capitalism with these other infrastructural histories is instead subjected to different layers of obfuscation, amnesia, straightforward denial and misrepresentations. Rather than being exclusively a post-Soviet phenomenon, the erasure of incongruences and heterogeneities from the smooth narrative of capitalist development and its economic rationality is, instead, at the very core of the making of what we know as global capitalism and, indeed, of its deconstruction. Upon close inspection, fragments of other worlds can be detected to pierce these apparently seamless surfaces like shards, “they are a heterogeneity that makes possible the logic of capital, and thus ensures both its powers and its failures.”45

1 Peter Pels, Modern Times: Seven Steps toward an Anthropology of the Future, in: Current Anthropology 6 (2015) 56, pp. 779-796.
2 Nikhil Anand, Accretion, in: Hannah Appel / Nikhil Anand / Akhil Gupta, (eds.), The Infrastructure Toolbox, Society for Cultural Anthropology Fieldsights, (4 September 2015), online version is available at <>.
3AbdouMaliq Simone, People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg, in: Public Culture 3 (2004) 16, pp. 407-429.
4 Hannah Appel, The Licit Life of Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019, p. 4.
5 Tariq Jazeel, Singularity. A Manifesto for Incomparable Geographies, in: Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 1 (2019) 40, pp. 5-21.
6 Colin McFarlane, Fragments of the City: Making and Remaking Urban Worlds. Berkley: University of California Press, 2020, p. 230.
7 Charmaine Chua / Martin Danyluk / Deborah Cowen / Laleh Khalili, Introduction: Turbulent Circulation: Building a Critical Engagement with Logistics, in: Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 4 (2019) 36, pp. 617-629.
8 Stephen J. Collier, Post-Soviet Social: Neoliberalism, Social Modernity, Biopolitics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011, p. 81.
9 Donald Rayfield (ed.), A Comprehensive Georgian-English Dictionary. Garnett Press, 2006.
10 Timothy Mitchell, The Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-politics, Modernity. Berkley: University of California Press, 2002.
11 Collier, Post-Soviet Social.
12 Collier, Post-Soviet Social, p. 8.
13 James Watts, Heritage and Enterprise Culture in Archangel, Northern Russia, in: Caroline Humphrey / Ruth Mandel (eds.), Markets and Moralities: Ethnographies of Postsocialism, Manchester: Berg, 2002, pp. 53-75, here p. 62.
14 Collier, Post-Soviet Social; cf. Catherine Humphrey / Ruth Mandel (eds.), Markets and Moralities: Ethnographies of Postsocialism. Manchester: Berg, 2002; Caroline Humphrey, Ideology in Infrastructure: Architecture and the Soviet Imagination, in: Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11 (2005) 1, pp. 39-58 .
15 Karl Polany, The Great Transformation. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1944.
16 Not only Polany but Tribe (1978), Dumont (1977), Buck-Morss (1995) and others have argued that the economy became a distinct sphere of social practice and intellectual knowledge in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Keith Tribe, Land, Labour, and Economic Discourse. London: Routledge, 1978; Louis Dumont, From Mandeville to Marx: The Genesis and Triumph of Economic Ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977; Susan Buck-Morss, Envisioning Capital: Political Economy on Display, in: Critical Inquiry 21 (2002) 2, pp. 434-467.
17 Mitchell, Rule of Experts, p. 4.
18 Mitchell, Rule of Experts, p. 5.
19 Mitchell, Rule of Experts, p. 9: cf. Michel Callon, Fabian Muniesa, Peripheral Vision: Economic Markets as Calculative Collective Devices, in: Organization Studies, 26 (2005) 6, pp. 1229-1250.
20 Mitchell, Rule of Experts, p. 272.
21 Caroline Humphrey, The Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies after Socialism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.
22 Joanna Bockman, Markets in the Name of Socialism: The Left-Wing Origins of Neoliberalism. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011; Lela Rekhviashvili, Why Read Informality in a Substantivist Manner? On the Embeddedness of the Soviet Second Economy, in: Abel Polese / Colin C. Williams / Ioana A. Horodnic / Predrag Bejakovic (eds.), The Informal Economy in Global Perspective. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp. 15-36; Gerard Mars / Yochanan Altman, The Cultural Bases of Soviet Georgia’s Second Economy, in: Soviet Studies 35 (1983), pp. 546-560.
23 Ovidiou Ţichindeleanu, Non-capitalist Economies and the Post-Soviet Transition, in: Eszter Lázár / Zsolt Petrányi (eds.), Over the Counter. The Phenomena of Post-Socialist Economy in Contemporary Art. Catalogue of the Exhibition, Mücsarnok Kunsthalle, Budapest, June 18 – September 20, 2010, pp. 5-15.
24 Laura Bear / Karen Ho / Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing / Sylvia Yanagisako, Gens: A Feminist Manifesto for the Study of Capitalism, in: Society for Cultural Anthropology, March 30, 2015, online version is available at <>.
25 Mamuka Khazaradze, Mamuka Khazaradze’s Statement on Anaklia Port, 2016
26 This statement was made during the 2017 Belt and Road Forum in Tbilisi, reported in my field notes.
27 The government investment agency reports that one of the country’s assets is its “competitively priced labour force”: Invest in Georgia, Labor,
28 When Saakashvili became President, as he uncovered his vast plan of reforms aimed at liberalizing the country’s economy, he declared Georgia’s “transition” to democracy and to a market economy to be officially over: Martin Demant Frederiksen, Young Men, Time and Boredom in the Republic of Georgia. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013, pp. 5; also see Mate Gabitsinashvili, Georgia’s Neoliberal Agony, in IPS Journal, https://Www.Ips-Journal.Eu/Regions/Europe/Georgias-Neoliberal-Agony-3924/.
29 Justin Gilbreath / Tamta Khalvashi, Georgia: Hard Money, Hard Times, in: Eurasianet (July 30, 2013), online version is available at https://Eurasianet.Org/Georgia-Hard-Money-Hard-Times; (2019) Giorgi Gvinjilia, ჩვენი მამუკა (Our Mamuka), European.Ge, 2019, https://European.Ge/Chveni-Mamuka/.
30 Collier, Post-Soviet Social, p. 121.
31 James Watts, Heritage and Enterprise Culture in Archangel, Northern Russia, in: Caroline Humphrey / Ruth Mandel (eds.), Markets and Moralities: Ethnographies of Postsocialism. Manchester: Berg, 2002, pp. 62-69.
32 Watts, Heritage and Enterprise Culture, p. 62.
33 Collier, Post-Soviet Social, p. 121.
34 Watts, Heritage and Enterprise Culture, p. 67.
35 Watts, Heritage and Enterprise Culture, p. 63.
36 Appel, Licit Life, p. 83.
37 Katherine Gotfredsen, Enemies of the People: Theorizing Dispossession and Mirroring Conspiracy in the Republic of Georgia, in: Focaal (2016) 74, pp. 42-53.
38 Mitchell, Rule of Experts, p. 303.
39 Tatjana Thelen, Social Security and Care after Socialism: Reconfigurations of Public and Private, in: Focaal (2007) 50, p. 43.
40 Thelen, Social Security and Care, p. 45.
41 Thelen, Social Security and Care, p. 45.
42 Dina Rajak, Expectations of Paternalism: Welfare, Corporate Responsibility and HIV at South Africa’s Mines, in: South Atlantic Quarterly 115 (2016) 1, pp. 33-59.
43 Anand, Accretion, p. 1.
44 Frederiksen, Young Men, p. 73.
45 Mitchell, Rule of Experts, p. 303.

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