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Authoritarianization and Responses in Turkey

Panel XI-25, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • In this paper, I provide a novel analysis of the politics of social service provision under the AKP regime in Turkey. Beginning from the 2000s, there has been a concerted effort among Islamic-conservative circles towards incorporating Islamic charitable traditions, institutions, and practices into the public welfare apparatus, bringing changes in the scope of charity laws, the design of poverty relief mechanisms, and the structure of the state-civil society relationship. This renewed understanding of Islam’s role in addressing social problems was accompanied with a proliferation of neoliberal practices, rationalities, subjectivities, and technologies. In this paper, I demonstrate that these governmental assemblages of Islamic neoliberalism have led to the advent of the Muslim social–an Islamic version of a welfare state that, I argue, treats the social primarily as a matter of technical management and emotional attachment. The Muslim Social emerges as a complex phenomenon, embracing the legitimacy of transparency, of new public management, a higher moral value placed on formal social relationships, stricter methods of inspection, and an elaborate system for administering the collection of donations and the distribution of funds. At the same time, these governmental assemblages shaped—and were shaped by—an Islamic language of care, compassion, and charity that cultivated public sentiments among Turkish citizens. The term governmental assemblage underscores the idea that “Islamic neoliberalism” is not a monolithic entity, but should rather be understood as a flexible co-articulation of multiple and intersecting economic imaginaries, religious visions, and social projects. Through examining the political logics and unintended consequences of these Islamic-neoliberal assemblages, I demonstrate that the Muslim Social was conceived as a domain that called for designing effective technical interventions and fostering compassionate emotional bonds, thereby folding society into a realm of government. I examine the shifting mechanisms of charitable giving and aid distribution that took place in public SYD waqfs and Islamic NGOs, leveraging the theoretical literature on managerialism, social imaginaries, humanitarianism, and poverty governance across the public-private divide. I examine both spaces of congruence as well as friction between neoliberal elements and Islamic values. Original empirical material comes from fieldwork in Turkey initially conducted in 2009-2010, followed by additional trips in 2013, and 2015. Methods include in-depth interviews with employees, volunteers, and managers of Islamic NGOs and public SYD waqfs, participant observation at volunteer meetings and aid distribution events, and textual analysis of publications pertaining to Islamic charity and the welfare state.
  • While much of the literature on party politics is situated in the context of national states, globalization and transnationalization processes in recent decades have led to important reforms in terms of voting rights and representation of emigrants, as well as diaspora engagement of national political parties (Van Haute and Kernalegenn 2020). The aim of this paper, the first on this topic, is to provide an initial assessment of Turkish political parties which have increasingly operated in the United States (U.S.) as part of their broader efforts to engage with the Turkish diaspora and to promote their political agendas abroad. The emergence of Turkish political parties in the U.S. is driven also by different factors, including the size and diversity of the Turkish diaspora in the U.S., the increasing polarization and instability of Turkish politics, and the growing importance of diaspora politics in global affairs, as well as national legal arrangements. Turkish political parties, namely the Republican People’s Party, People’s Democratic Party and finally the Justice and Development Party, started to open their branches in the U.S. around 2013, following the adoption of a law expanding the rights to vote in national elections to Turkish citizens living abroad in 2012, forming a critical voter pool for the parties. The reflection of broader trends in Turkish politics towards Islamism, populism, and authoritarianism among the diaspora not only forged the process of extra-territorialization of Turkey's politics but also deepened the divisions along party lines within Turkey's diaspora. Based on in-depth interviews with the representatives of the above-mentioned three parties from Turkey in the U.S., this paper unpacks the significance of Political Parties Abroad (Van Haute and Kernalegenn 2020), providing insights into the complex and evolving relationship between immigration, politics, and identity, by focusing on the rise of populist and nationalist movements, the increasing importance of diaspora politics, and the challenges and opportunities of transnational political engagement.
  • This paper focuses on contemporary back-to-landers in Turkey, secular and educated middle-class urbanites who ethically re-invent themselves as farmers of ecological food. In this fast-developing country undergoing massive urbanization and increasing political authoritarianism and economic precarity, back-to-landers express growing skepticism towards conventional forms of political participation and the upward mobility expected of their class positions. Concerned with agroecological futures, they cohere around an emergent movement seeking to generate sustainable production and consumption as well as alternative food networks that cut across the countryside and the city. The research is based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork conducted in western Turkey in urban and rural settings between 2018 to 2021 for a total of eighteen months. It attends to spaces such as consumer and producer cooperatives, meetings of organized groups, agricultural fields, open-air markets, and people’s homes and kitchens, and engages with different actors back-to-landers regularly interact with, including local villagers, urban food activists, and ecological living enthusiasts. Combining participant observation, detailed life histories, visual ethnography of social media accounts, and discourse analysis of texts circulating in these networks, this paper focuses on the conceptual implications of imagining unrealized scenarios within this emerging agroecological movement. Many efforts to turn to ecological living, to farm, to work with others, and to organize in collectives end up in failure and disappointment. A variety of unsurmountable challenges, including personal circumstances, interpersonal conflicts, logistical difficulties, economic hardships, and political suppression, result in an affective register whereby back-to-landers and food activists envision situations that they know will not materialize, but still engage in the work of imagining what could have been. Oftentimes, comparisons to other countries, especially Europe and the west, dominate these narratives. Juxtapositions of the here and the there, often designations without a referent, give rise to a subjective mode that is emblematic of Turkey’s contemporary condition where it is becoming increasingly difficult to bridge the gap between ideal and reality in organizing for radical socio-political change. Drawing from a recently growing anthropological body of work that conceptualizes the subjunctive (Whyte 2005, Kyriakides 2918, Hardin 2021), particularly in relation to environmental politics (Ahmann 2019), this paper investigates how people navigate feelings of possibility and impossibility and deal with the fragility of their actions, ultimately arguing that the subjunctive mood emerges as a site for enacting alternative possibilities and enables people to sustain hope and keep on going against all odds.
  • This research paper focuses on the correlation between violence against women and the rise of authoritarian populism in contemporary Turkey. Soaring numbers of violence against women in Turkey by 400% according to official numbers of the government by 1,400% according to NGO reports in the last two decades reveal the alarming rise of violence against women. Although, there is an abundance of grassroot activism and social movements fighting to eliminate violence against women, there are very few studies examining this problem named as an epidemic by many scholars. Literature review on the topic shows that there is a deficit in current research that addresses the relationship between authoritarian populism and gender politics, in this case increase of violence against women. Kandiyoti (2016) argues that violence against women in Turkey generally “blamed on an ill-defined notion of patriarchy, implicitly understood as a deeply ingrained pattern of culture” or as some policy makers call “a social disease” (103). This characterization while pathologizing the offenders fails to address the systemic and institutional underlying reasons of this phenomenon and its link to governance (Kandiyoti 2016, 104). Lack of research combining these two, namely, the location of gender in the Turkish politics, begs for a comprehensive analysis and research of changing political atmosphere and its impact on violence against women. Grewal (2020) argues that “gender and sexuality – articulated with race, class, caste, religion and other local social divisions – are central to producing authoritarian power on the interrelated scales of family and nation” (182). Hence, this paper provides a discussion of the ways in which gender is located in the current political climate of Turkey and has increasingly become an apparatus for the authoritarian state as a form of protection of its perpetuity. Keywords: authoritarian populism, illiberal democracies, gender and the state