My research focuses on the emergence of a new set of ideas and practices of childrearing in the formative years of modern Turkey (1923-45). I analyze the ways in which the political and the intellectual webs surrounding the Children’s Protection Society (CPS) and their discussions on childrearing, can provide us with a new understanding of nationalism; one focusing on children’s bodies and children’s spaces in Turkey.
This paper concentrates on the yearly celebrations of April 23, National Sovereignty and Children’s Day. Celebrations of the National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, co-organized by the state and the CPS, offer a great ground to observe state policies and the celebration of healthy childhood. In the form of beauty pageants, yearly contests of robust children, twins, and multiples were organized during these celebrations. Contests often used previously diseased or undernourished bodies of children and constructed a narrative of before and after. Mothers and healthy reproduction were also renowned. Mothers of five or more children were publicly celebrated and offered medals by the CPS on the Children’s Day. This work examines the ways in which the CPS used the bodies of children in the performative construction of a futurist discourse emphasizing both on the actual and on the metaphoric transformation of a sick body left alone (Ottoman Empire), into a healthy and strong body surrounded by his/her brothers and family (Turkish nation).
In my research I use ethnographic data, oral accounts, newspapers, visuals, and statistics of the Children’s Protection Society, and try to blend them into a broader theoretical discussion on performance, body politics, and history of childhood.