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Beyond Officialdom and Patronage: Alternative Careers and Self‑Fashioning among the Ottoman Educated Elites during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
This paper investigates the forms of self‑fashioning and positionalities among the Ottoman learned elites and ties these efforts into a discussion about the perception of state power in Ottoman society during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Taking the premise that power and resistance can co‑exist, the paper identifies acts of defiance among the Ottoman litterateurs. Various demonstrations of “centrifugal” attitudes fall into this category, including the writing of satires, leaving the scholarly profession to seek alternative employments, performatively engaging in improper professional conduct, or expressing sympathy with ideas which were deemed antinomian and heretical. Although these undertakings were far from being overt critiques of power, or maybe even conscious ones, they did urge the Ottoman centre to continuously neutralise and re-implant these individuals in its own mechanisms. The scholarship on the Ottoman learned establishment has hitherto highlighted the hardships met by Ottoman scholar‑jurists who wanted to advance to the higher echelons of the competitive career track through its numerous increments. Yet, their individual lives and personal worldviews have only recently started to attract scholarly attention. The biographical dictionaries, concerned with the lives of the Ottoman scholars and poets, reveal numerous cases in which students, scholars, and litterateurs combined their posts with other preoccupations, sought alternatives to state service or quit the career path altogether. As the selection criterion to be included in a biographical compendium of poets was not necessarily one’s rank in the scholar‑jurist career track, these texts provide valuable insights into the lives and careers of the less‑prominent members of the scholar‑jurist hierarchy as well as of those litterateurs outside of the career path. Poetry collections further reveal personal opinions recorded by learned individuals regarding the political and social order of which they were a part. By considering a wider range of opinions and actions by the members of the Ottoman learned establishment, the paper strives towards a more holistic understanding of the relationship between the Ottoman regime and its intellectual elites during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Geographic Area
Ottoman Empire
Sub Area
13th-18th Centuries