111th ASA Annual Meeting, Washington, United States Of America, 20 - 23 August 2016
This study examines the Lazi of Turkey in line with the constructivist approach to ethnicity and ethnic boundary making. It argues that the Lazi has developed a blurred identity feeling belong to both ethnic Lazness and national Turkishness. In front of the restraints imposed by the nation-state, especially regarding linguistic policies, the Lazi has been through a language shift and invented alternative ways of ethnic boundary making. The Lazi tends to substitute the practical and daily role of ethnic language and ethnic origin in boundary making process with less politicized cultural assets. Symbolically used ethnic traits and cognitively constructed ethnic boundaries with their neighbors are the main mechanisms of drawing the boundaries. This study is a contribution to the analysis of ethnic boundary making in association with national circumstances and forces. It demonstrates that the Lazi as a small ethnic group without a collective political organization and heritage of established cultural reproduction survived by developing a blurred identity partly articulating and assimilating itself to the ethnically blind-nationalist-assimilationist state model, partly escaping its ethnic boundary mechanisms from the radar of the state. Nevertheless, the analysis also highlights the transformative role of the nation-state for the reproduction of ethnic identities. Lazness does not possess its own assets of national construction, such as standardized language, standardized version of history or universally acknowledged status in the world of nations. Thus, the blurred ethnic identity is profoundly backed by another subjectivity, another sense of “us”, which is the Turkish nation.