World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Cultural Politics in Liberalizing Turkey (191) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: School of Anthropology, University of Arizona (USA)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Brian Silverstein

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: This interdisciplinary panel examines the intersection of liberalization and the politics of culture in contemporary Turkey. The papers on the panel each explore a case of the cultural politics of identity and how they are both enabled by and stand in an uneasy tension with political and economic liberalization in the country since the 1980s. Turkey is undergoing exceptionally rapid transformation on these fronts, in tandem with its EU entry bid, and the panel explores the implications of recent reforms for identities and subjectivities. While new spaces and tools have emerged for the fashioning of new (or hitherto underground) identities (e.g. Kurdish, Roma, Armenian, gay, woman, religious), our papers suggest that such identifications are related to new conceptions of what is or is not ‘political’.

Chair: Brian Silverstein (School of Anthropology, University of Arizona)

Paper presenter: Danielle van Dobben (School of Anthropology and Dept of Near Eastern Studies, University of Arizona), “The Ruins of Modernity: Roma (Gypsy) Shantytown Dwellers in Istanbul, Turkey”
Walter Benjamin suggested that modernity is best understood through its ruins, marked as they are by particular histories. In Turkey since the 1950s migrants to urban centers have settled in shanty town (gecekondu) communities; many of the migrants to Istanbul have been Kurdish and Roma (Gypsy). One shanty town in Istanbul, Sulukule, became known as a center for Roma music and dance and attracted both locals and foreigners to their ‘entertainment houses’. In the early 2000s, the Fatih municipality began planning for Sulukule’s demolition as part of an urban renewal project to clean up the city in time for its stint as the 2010 European Cultural Capital. The residents appealed to local intellectuals and a global fan base to save Sulukule’s music and dance heritage, but Sulukule was demolished in 2008 and 2009, and its resident scattered. The residents' musical and dance practices came to be seen as both traditional and subversive, tools to question the ethics of modernity while simultaneously utilizing the liberal discourses of multiculturalism and minority rights. Van Dobben's paper asks: How did the Roman of Sulukule construct their sense of identity out of a destroyed past? How might Sulukule, as an object of reverie, gain potency in the memories of ex-residents? How does one analyze the impact of a place that no longer exists?

Paper presenter: Hikmet Kocamaner (School of Anthropology and Dept of Near Eastern Studies, University of Arizona), “Whither the Secular Public Sphere?: The Case of 'Islamic' Broadcasting in Turkey”
Television broadcasting has played a significant role in the creation of a secular public sphere in Turkey. The state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) held a monopoly until the liberalization of broadcasting in the 1990s. On TRT only those who fit the state’s definition of an ideal Turkish citizen were represented, i.e. urban secular Turks, while ethnic and religious minorities, and non-secular Muslims were virtually absent from the TV screens. Since the 1990s, many privately owned TV stations have flourished, including several so-called ‘Islamic’ channels. Many secular Turks are worried that the growing popularity of these ‘Islamic’ TV stations, combined with the dominance of the AK Party in the parliament, point to the gradual elimination of the secular public sphere. However Kocamaner argues that these TV stations help fashion a counter-public that is aimed at a reconfiguration, rather than elimination, of the secular public sphere in Turkey by blurring the boundaries between the secular and the religious and challenging the exclusivist tendencies of the liberal public sphere. I discuss how Islamic sensibilities, traditions, discourses and practices represented on these channels articulate with the rise of a new Muslim bourgeoisie that demanded a reconfiguration of the public sphere as a space of democratic public debate. These channels also illustrate the possibility of the co-existence of the secular and the religious by fostering new habits of media production and consumption tied to a new Islamic bourgeois ethics.

Paper presenter: Asli Igsiz (Dept of Near Eastern Studies, University of Arizona), “Genealogical Order: Biopolitics in Contemporary Turkey”
Michel Foucault conceptualizes biopolitics as a productive and regulating power whereby one gains ''control over relations between the human race, or human beings insofar as they are a species, insofar as they are living beings, and their environment, the milieu in which they live,” beyond the repressive power of the state. This paper proposes that increasingly popular public fascination with genealogy - tracing one's personal, family ''history''- is a new form of biopolitics in contemporary Turkey. Igsiz examines competing approaches to the relationship between individuals and history as a way to explore the dynamics of reconsidering historical ruptures and different identifications in Turkey's public domain. While there is a democratization of history through increasingly different public articulations of personal identification, including tracing family histories to different geographies and other identities than the national ''Turkish'', there is also a counter discourse: genealogy is also increasingly appropriated in making essentializing claims to discredit those who have undesired political subject-positions. The very same structure, genealogy, initially employed to develop ''different'' identities than officially-sanctioned, national ones, thus becomes a new field in which contemprary politics of rupture andidentification crystallize in Greek, Jewish, Armenian or Turkish subjects.

Paper presenter: Brian Silverstein (School of Anthropology, University of Arizona), “Governing Freedom and the Security of the Social in Turkey”
In his Philosophy of Right, Hegel famously defines civil or ''bourgeois'' society as an intermediate sphere that is neither the state nor the family. While such definitions have been widely critiqued as insufficient, inattentive to gendered realities, and misleading, the outlines of academic and applied conceptions of civil society have changed remarkably little since Hegel's discussion. In 2006 Turkey passed a law requiring municipalities (which account for over 75% of the country's population) to establish city councils (kent konseyleri). These city councils are new in form and function, bringing together officers from state institutions like municipalities and governorships with ''civil groups'' like professional chamber and association members, as well as academics and lawyers and community leaders, and are conceived as advisory bodies for municipalities, especially on strategic planning and budgeting priorities. Drawing on Fouacult's work on liberal governmentality Silverstein's paper examines the role of NGOs and the application of social scientific knowledge in how city councils in Turkey aim to institutionalize civil society (not ''overly'' dependent on the state, and not merely made up of networks of extended familial ties and ''connections'') through the formation of new communities, new kinds of selves and attitudes, new conceptions of governance and the state, and new practices of state-citizen relations.