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Capturing Complexity: A New Key to (Ottoman and Turkish) Politics
Capturing Complexity: A New Key to (Ottoman and Turkish) Politics The study of Turkey and the Middle East has long been informed by binary logics which pit groups like “Islamists vs. secularists”, “Turks vs. Kurds”, or “Sunnis vs. Alevis”. Binary reasoning, moreover, has been internalized by many people across the region, contributing to intensive polarization today across ethnic, religious, sectarian, and other identity lines. Yet, Turkey, like the region, is also a site of remarkable diversity and persistent mobilization for pluralistic politics. (Pluralism here is defined in an analytical-descriptive sense—unencumbered by the Eurocentric assumptions of liberal political theory—as amenability to sharing spaces with people unlike oneself). How then to reconcile the power of binary frames with actually existing diversity? This paper, which presents the main findings of a forthcoming monograph with Cambridge University Press, proposes an answer. Drawing on complex systems thinking in conversation with historical institutionalism in political science, it proposes an original framework with which to read political contests. The argument is that contestation is driven not by binary conflicts between monolithic identity groups, but by the dynamic interplay of agential, ideational, and structural factors. This interplay generates emergent properties which, at times of heightened tension, can culminate in critical junctures that propel a political system in more or less open directions. Using process-tracing based on extensive, historical and contemporary source triangulation—including some 60 interviews—it pinpoints the causal interplay of agents, ideas, and structures across a dozen critical junctures in late Ottoman and republican Turkey. This evidence points to a powerful but widely overlooked pattern: that political outcomes are driven not by inter-camp conflict, but by inter-camp coalitions. In other words, moderates across groups tend to coalesce into formal or informal alliances against hardliners who likewise come together across identity camps. Thus, advocates of various forms of pluralism (e.g. religious, ethnic, gender) are intermittently able to impel pluralizing change (even as the real differences across their respective takes on pluralism render such alliances fragile). On other occasions, however, advocates of unitary identities across camps, e.g. ethno- and ethno-religious nationalists, cooperate successfully to keep the pluralists out. This novel and timely key to (Ottoman and Turkish) politics thus challenges Orientalist readings of Middle Eastern politics as driven by primordial hostilities, opening the eye to analytical and practical possibilities for building alliances for pluralism across political camps.
International Relations/Affairs
Political Science
Geographic Area
All Middle East
Sub Area