Dr. Evren Altınkaş graduated from the International Relations Department of Dokuz Eylül University. He received postgraduate degrees from King’s College London in 2000 and Dokuz Eylül University in 2003 where he studied on the issue of Cyprus. He obtained his doctoral degree from Dokuz Eylül University in 2011 based on his dissertation comparing the development of the concept of intellectuals in Europe and in Turkey. He worked as an Assistant Professor in Avrasya University (2012-2013), Artvin Coruh University (2013-2014) and Girne American University (2014-2015). Altınkaş has several published articles in academic journals and book chapters. His research areas are Middle Eastern History, Turkish Politics, Comparative History, International Law, Cyprus problem and Intellectual History. He is currently continuing his academic research as an independent scholar.
CHANGINGTURKEY: Could you inform our readers about your recent and forthcoming publications? What are the main arguments that you defend in your recent works?
My recent work concentrates on the role of social media in the development of new politics. One of the objectives of this study is to develop a theory of “social media as a fifth force in politics”, by focusing on the concept of social media with an emphasis on “the sphere where public meet and organize”. The traditional conceptualization of the forces in politics is counted as “legislative, executive and judiciary”, with a popular addition of “media” as the fourth force, since it serves mainly as a mediator between the government and the people. Etymologically, it is easier to describe televisions, newspapers and radios as “mediators” between the people and the government as they transmit messages from one to the other. People use media as a channel to reach out to the government and express their demands, views and comments about governmental policies. Also, the government uses media to inform people about its new policies, regulations and actions. But, with the intensification of social media and Internet, we are witnessing the emergence of a new sphere where people from different parts of the country and the world can interact and even develop a general and shared attitude. This is something completely different from “public sphere” or “public opinion” in its nature. New media, social media and online networking services like Twitter and Facebook for instance have allowed a big number of individuals to organize and discuss social change completely outside the borders of a nation. Just like Gutenberg’s Bible first brought literacy to the masses, social media has brought the power of self-organization to people on a transnational basis.
I discussed the main tenets of social media emerging as a new force in domestic and international politics in my opinion paper published by the 21st Century Turkey Institute. For instance, the Immigration Law issued in France and in some other EU countries have gradually caused a decrease in the amount of skilled migrants from North Africa to EU countries, and those skilled university graduates who have organized through social media were actually the main dynamics behind the Arab Spring.
The Occupy movement is another example. What began in New York City has spread to cities across the United States and to the rest of the world. While protests against monetary policy spring up from time to time, the fact that these spread out movements have all decided to unite under the banner of the “Occupy” movement speaks volumes for the effects of social media and the Internet. In fact, many in the Occupy movement point to Egypt as their inspiration, which is even more astonishing for a number of reasons. One is the massive income disparity among protestors in Cairo and those in New York. While relative income in these nations is vastly different, citizens in both Egypt and the United States similarly protest their national elites in their respective nations. Another obvious reason that such a connection is astounding is because of the very nature of having protests in countries that are so far away from each other. It can easily be said that this is not the first time citizens in one locale, having heard of protests in another land, have been inspired to do the same, but in no other time in history, can such communication of revolution be accessed instantly by both parties. Now, as Embassies across the world are monitoring Twitter accounts and informing one another of various calls for protest, the power (at least the power of first-access to information) has shifted in favor of the people. The important distinctive character of social media from public sphere and public opinion is the possibility of participation in social media from all parts of a society, including even the government officials. A very recent example in Turkey, the Gezi Park Protests showed us that social media was able to cause a lot of problems for national government. Turkish Prime Minister named social media as a “trouble” while criticizing its role in the organization of protests. But, interestingly, the Turkish Prime Minister, the Mayor of the Istanbul, the Mayor of Ankara and many officials from the government have all used social media as a tool to eradicate the effects of Gezi Park protests on public opinion.
It is very important to analyze the role of social media as a political force in society, which helps to improve the democracy. As Aristotle put it thousands of years ago, “democracy” is the corrupt form of the “polity”. Aristotle said that people who cannot rule themselves directly consider “democracy” as the only viable form of governance, which in turn leads to corrupt forms of leadership and government. In our modern world, direct democracy is almost impossible with some exceptions in certain Swiss cantons. Yet, with the help of social media and its role in letting people express their ideas directly to their peers and to officials who are also members of this huge network; it may be possible for people to have a chance to rule themselves directly. This process may start with criticizing some negative aspects about parliamentarian democracy and end with criticizing the “elected” parliamentarians who content themselves by voting for the Bills according to the will of their party leaders instead of the people.
Overall, my research aims to underline the importance of “people” in politics, with a specific reference to the rising role of social media both in society and in political life. The project has two dimensions: One is a comparison among Egypt, Turkey and other parts of the world where social media was used as a very effective tool to organize social movements, and the second dimension of my research is a historical comparison between the rise of “public sphere” as an area of social involvement – and inclusion into the political system with a chance of directly affecting the decision-makers – and the current role of social media which has the same effect in a direct or indirect manner.
CHANGINGTURKEY: What are the potential limitations of the existing analyses on Turkish politics and society, in your opinion? Could you suggest any gaps in the literature or any potential pitfalls?
In my opinion, one of the most important limitations we face while studying Turkish politics and society is a lack of objectivity. Competing tendencies that either accept or reject the Ottoman tradition in Turkish politics and history bring a huge problem. Turkish academia is highly polarized. For instance, in one of my publications, namely, “Intellectuals in the Early Republican Era: Elites of the Founding Ideology” (Article published at the refereed journal of CTAD, Year 7, Issue 14, Fall 2011) I used the term of “Kemalism” to define the ideology which predominated the early Republican era. Because of this, I have received criticisms from some prominent academics that using that term was too ideological. On the other hand, when I published another article on Ottoman intellectuals claiming that the intellectual tradition of the Ottoman era had huge impacts on Turkish intellectuals, a new set of criticisms I received was mainly about my emphasis on Ottoman intellectuals, which was seen by some other prominent academics as a praise to Ottomans and therefore unacceptable. When we look at the literature, the gap can be summarized as the combination of such disagreements I have tried to explain above. A detailed research on the sociological structure of Turkey needs to be conducted as we generally do not have much idea about sociology, traditions, family relations of Turkish “gemeinschaft” –following the conceptualization of Tönnies.
CHANGINGTURKEY: What is the best manuscript(s) you’ve read on Turkish politics and society so far? Could you suggest our readers any Turkey-focused research you have found valuable?
As a scholar of Turkish politics and history, I consider two manuscripts as particularly important. These may sound very familiar to your readers: Feroz Ahmad’s “The Making of Modern Turkey”, and Erik J. Zürcher’s “Turkey: A Modern History”.