Based on our analysis, there appear to be three broad clusters in the cultural space of Turkey. One is the ‘engaged cosmopolitans’ who have embraced a more urban and globalized culture, both in taste, particularly in music, literature, and cuisine, but also in participation preferences. They are also active users of new media, including the internet and its social networking websites. This cultural pattern is consistent with reports of a growing cosmopolitanization of tastes among the new globalized middle class of contemporary Turkey (Ayata, 2002; Bartu and Kolluoglu, 2008; Emrence 2008). With its history of Westernizing cultural engineering, it is probably not surprising that a sizable proportion of the adult population exhibits these tastes. However, nearly all of the categories that measure local culture fail to differentiate clusters, suggesting that claims that this cultural group is ‘deterritorialized’ (Üstüner and Holt, 2009) may be exaggerated, as our finding suggest that its members are probably also regular consumers of the local high and popular culture.
Numerically, this taste cluster may fit as many as a quarter of the adult population and is strongly linked to privileged social position, that is, located closest to the highest income and education categories and the most secular identity. In contrast to the British study showing that younger members of the culturally engaged middle class prefer more ‘contemporary’ and popular forms (Bennett et al., 2008), young Turkish adults are also closer to preferences for more ‘established’ forms of the secular culture in literature and the arts. We speculate that this may be related to the combined effect of higher educational attainment among the younger generation and the increased availability of these cultural forms in the contemporary period.
The second cluster of taste – the ‘engaged provincialists’ – takes a more critical stance toward this emerging culture, particularly in a general dislike of its literary forms, but also some cuisine types, preferring more established (i.e. traditional) ones. This cluster may loosely apply to 30 or 40 percent of the population and is closest to older adults of middle income and education, and who are more likely to support an active role for religion in public life. We speculate that the more modest social status of this localist middle class means they are sufficiently exposed to broader cultural phenomena to have formed an opinion, albeit sometimes negative, of this emerging cultural diversity, a pattern that may be more prevalent among the new Islamic middle class.
The third cluster is a group that is more culturally disengaged, expressing neutrality towards, disinterest in, or lack of knowledge of a broad array of literary, cuisine and musical taste genres. Cultural participation is also low for this cluster, a group more likely to say they never go to the cinema, performances or shopping malls, and do not use the internet or social networking sites. As much as half of the adult population, mostly those with the least income and education, but also older people and women, are associated with this cultural milieu. The existence of an engagement/disengagement cultural dimension, widely reported in other studies discussed above, has been linked to unequal distribution of material and cultural resources, and lifecycle and generational differences that affect openness to new cultural forms and opportunities to participate. Our results are consistent with those explanations. However, given the higher levels of poverty and inequality in Turkey, material disadvantages that limit access to cultural resources are probably more of a factor in disengagement there. Moreover, mechanisms of social exclusion prevent large segments of the population from acquiring the cultural capital (especially in the form of education and English language proficiency) necessary to critically engage and participate in the dynamic cosmopolitanism of the Turkish cultural field, particularly as culture is increasingly commodified. Given Turkey’s recent embrace of neoliberalism and the growth of social and spatial inequalities it has spawned (Ayata, 2002; Bartu and Kolluoglu, 2008; Emrence, 2008), disengagement is likely to be a persistent feature of the country’s cultural landscape.
Our results are broadly consistent with the empirical research linking social position and cultural consumption. Cultural differences along both dimensions – level of engagement and orientation towards Western culture – appear to be strongly associated with differences in education, income, and age, and, to a lesser extent, gender. However, in Turkey, cultural boundaries are also shaped by religion-not surprisingly, given the heated public debates around issues of secularism and Islam in Turkey. That the more religious are more disengaged suggests that moral judgments rooted in religious beliefs lead large numbers of people to reject modern secular culture, particularly in its Western forms. A similar response has been reported in several post-socialist Eastern European countries, where cultural disengagement there takes the form of a rejection of the Western consumerist ethos and its associated tastes and activities, which are seen as a threat to real or imagined ‘traditional’ identities (Lankauskas, 2002; Keller and Vihalemm, 2003, 2005; Keller, 2005). As reported here, this is often seen among older generations. In Turkey, a religiously-based, anti-Western consumption ethos has probably been facilitated by the emergence of Islamic consumer culture that targets the particular tastes of the growing Islamic middle class (White, 1999; Navaro-Yashin, 2002). Our analysis highlights the limits of viewing cultural fields as national in scope and underscores the impact of Western culture outside of the Western context, which appears to be reorganizing cultural hierarchies in Turkey and engendering new forms of cultural hybridization in a melding of local and non-local culture. As we have shown, cultural communities in Turkey are largely differentiated by their preferences for, dislike of, or indifference to, Western culture, distinctions that are frequently deployed in the construction of cultural boundaries in Turkey (Öncü, 1999; Üstüner and Holt, 2009).