The value in those you know: dimensions of social capital in COVID-19 vaccination uptake among ethnic and religious minority groups in Georgia
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the diverse roles of information. While the interconnected nature of the globe has seen the rapid transmission of knowledge, disinformation has continued to spread in parallel. This thesis examines COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy through the example of Georgia, a country distinguished by high levels of ‘bonding’ social capital. More specifically, it draws attention to the experience of three minority communities: (1) the Georgian-Azerbaijani community of Kvemo Kartli, (2) the Georgian-Armenian community of Samtskhe-Javakheti, and (3) the Georgian Muslim community of Mountainous Adjara. Georgia’s COVID-19 vaccination process has shed light on the inequalities these marginalised communities face within a nationalising state heavily attached to notions of ‘ethnodoxy’. Consequently, these three communities have each developed strategies of resilience against the COVID-19 pandemic. This thesis examines the relationship between social capital and vaccination uptake via a social-anthropological approach, focusing particular attention on community-level mechanisms. Through doing so, it finds the prevalence of informal networks — characterised by the dual-phenomenon of close in-group ties and out-group mistrust — profoundly impacts attitudes and practices towards vaccine uptake among these communities. In light of persistently low vaccination rates in Georgia, these findings on the reliance on informal networking as a means of obtaining information seek to provide a deeper insight into both the positive and negative outcomes of close-knit bonding ties.