Interviewed by Umut Can Adısönmez (Changing Turkey Research Associate)

Ayşe Zarakol is a University Lecturer (Assistant Professor) at the University of Cambridge, with affiliations atzarakol Emmanuel College as an official fellow and the Centre for Rising Powers as a Senior Research Associate. Ayşe broadly works on East-West relations in the international system, with a focus on stigmatization and social hierarchies; problems of modernity and sovereignty; rising and declining powers; and Turkish politics in a comparative perspective (with other non-Western powers such as Russia and Japan). In addition to her book After Defeat: How the East Learned to Live with the West (Cambridge UP, 2011 and in Turkish, with a new introduction, with Koç UP, 2012), she has published in journals such as International Organization, Cooperation & Conflict, International Studies Quarterly, International Theory, Review of International Studies, European Journal of International Relations, and International Relations, as well as in more policy-oriented outlets (such as the Journal of Democracy) and edited books. She is currently serving on the executive committee of The Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia (PONARS Eurasia); the advisory board of the State-Making and the Origins of Global Order
in the Long Nineteenth Century and Beyond (STANCE) project at Lund University Sweden, as well as the journals of International Studies Review and International Relations. She is also involved in the ERC funded DIPLOFACE project led by Professor Rebecca Adler-Nissen at the University of Copenhagen. The contributions of her research have been recognised by a number of funding institutions and professional associations in the US, UK and Europe, including the designation of ‘rising star’ from the IR section of Swedish Political Science Association (SWEPSA). In 2016, Ayse was a visiting fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge, and the Nobel Institute in Oslo.

Could you please tell us about your background and previous studies?

I grew up in Istanbul. I left when I was seventeen to attend university in the United States. I went to Middlebury College, a liberal arts college in rural Vermont where I majored in Political Science and Classical Studies. When I graduated from college I thought I wanted to go to law school (in the US law is studied at the graduate level) so I worked for a year at a law firm in New York City as a legal assistant. Realising this path was not for me, I applied in the last minute for PhD programs in Political Science, and ended up going to University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was the best last minute decision I have ever made. There I had the good fortune of studying with some great scholars, especially Michael Barnett (who left for Minnesota in the middle of my studies but stayed on as my dissertation advisor). This was a great time to be a student in Madison. Upon graduation, I got a tenure-track position in a small liberal arts college in Virginia (Washington and Lee University). After several years there and one year in Washington, DC, as Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow where I worked for the US government, I was appointed to my current permanent post as a University Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Cambridge. I am also a fellow at Emmanuel College.


What are the deficiencies in Turkish academic literature related to your field?

The deficiencies in Turkish IR literature mirror the deficiencies of the broader IR literature. IR is still an American dominated field. Until recently, American IR was characterised by what is called inter-paradigm debates between realism, liberalism and to some extent, constructivism. Later another major debate emerged between positivists and non-positivists, the end result of which has been an increasing divergence between American IR, which tends to be overwhelmingly positivist and European IR, which tends to be non-positivist (though not overwhelmingly so). American IR is supposed to have left “theory” behind in the sense that most recent research does not take strong paradigmatic position but is methods driven instead, to the extent of “fetishising” various statistical and experimental methods at the expense of asking big questions.  European IR, on the other hand, has become very (meta)-theoretical, to the extent that it is possible to see IR scholars who are incredibly well versed in the nuances of the writings of particular continental philosophers but have no interest in what the general public would consider IR questions.

Because many Turkish IR scholars are trained abroad, either in the US or Europe, and/or have to conform to the expectations of that literature to get published in “top” journals, which are invariably located in the US or Europe, we see the problems created by the situations I have described above replicated in the Turkish IR literature as well. The quantitative trend in the American IR literature has not quite taken hold in Turkish IR, but the paradigm-speak is very much a fact. How anyone can be familiar with Turkish politics and take the rationalist approaches of neorealism or neoliberalism to be descriptive theories of international relations is beyond me. At least in Americans defence we can say that they don’t know any better! Also, in the articles I am sent to review dealing with some aspect of Turkish politics and Turkish foreign policy, I sometimes see a very utilitarian approach to theory use – some theoretical framework is superimposed on a more nuanced case study without thinking too much about the assumptions and the implications of the theory itself.  On the flip side, the more “meta” European approaches to IR seem to give some Turkish scholars “critical” bona fides without having to go through the trouble of taking critical political stances with real world implications.

But I do not mean to come across as overly critical of Turkish IR; my colleagues in Turkey are working in difficult conditions, to put it mildly, and yet are still able to contribute in very significant ways to the broader IR literature. Turkish IR is taken very seriously in the broader discipline due to their efforts. Of the younger generations, I very much admire the works of Pinar Bilgin, Bahar Rumelili, Lerna Yanik, Sinan Birdal, Senem Aydin Duzgit, just to name a few names off the top of my head; I am leaving out many others who are also doing excellent work (my apologies in advance). These are scholars who could work anywhere in the world, yet choose to stay in Turkey. Their contributions to Turkish IR cannot be overestimated. There are also many Turkish scholars with positions abroad who are doing very interesting work: Nukhet Ahu Sandal, Kerem Nisancioglu and Karabekir Akkoyunlu are three recent examples that come to mind.

As these examples clearly demonstrate, Turkish IR actually has the potential to make very worthwhile contributions to the broader literature if freed from the shackles of working with imported theoretical templates that have no grounding in global history. Both American and European IR suffer greatly from the blind spots generated by the ahistoricism and Eurocentrism endemic in their approaches. Because those of us in or with links to Turkey are well-versed in both those literatures and a case study (Turkey!) that puts all of those assumptions to test, we are actually really well-positioned for constructing IR theories that better explain the world.


Could you recommend any articles or books which were recently published?

My work is more historically oriented, so the books and articles I have read recently reflect that orientation. Of recently published books, I would especially recommend: Buzan and Lawson’s The Global Transformation (CUP 2015), which deals with the significance of the nineteenth century in creating the modern international order;  Branch’s The Cartographic State (CUP 2014), which deals with the overlooked role of cartography in the creation of modern states; Anievas and Nisancioglu’s How the West Came to Rule (Chicago 2015), which contextualises the “rise of the West” in a truly global account; and Patricia Owens’  Economy of Force (CUP 2015), which provides an account of the historical rise of the “social” realm. Another great book is Phillips and Sharman’s International Order in Diversity: War, Trade and Rule in the Indian Ocean (CUP 2015). All of these books also have interesting implications for those of us interested in Turkish/Ottoman history.

Could you please tell us about your recent works and these works’ findings?

I am close to finishing a multi-year collaborative project about the reconceptualisation of the discipline of IR, called “Hierarchies in World Politics”.  An article from this project is coming out this month in International Organization, and I hope the book will be out within the year as well. The project brings together many high profile names working on hierarchies and we are arguing that the anarchy assumption that has dominated the field in the recent decades has closed off many avenues of interesting research to IR scholars.

I have two other forthcoming peer-reviewed articles this year: one article (forthcoming in Cooperation & Conflict) is about conceptualising and historicising “the state” as an ontological security providing and a short article providing a critical assessment of the TRIP surveys, which is my contribution to a forum on the state of constructivism in IR in PS. I have also co-authored a chapter with Zeynep Gulsah Capan in a forthcoming volume edited by Charlotte Epstein and titled Anti-Norms; our chapter criticises the uses of postcolonial critiques in Turkish academia and politics from a postcolonial perspective.


Lastly, what are your future plans in the field?

I have several items active on my research agenda at the moment. I have a long-term historical project about the politics of great power decline. I am also working on a couple of articles on non-Western experiences in state-building and conceptualisations of sovereignty. I am collaborating with Jelena Subotic on a project about the implications of nation-branding for the study of IR. I am also involved in a multi-year project led by Rebecca Adler-Nissen and funded by ERC about EU diplomacy and social media, overseeing the relations with Turkey/Russia dimension. These are some of the highlights.

Dear Changing Turkey readers,

Chris_RumfordIt is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we inform you that the father of ChangingTurkey initiative and an excellent role-model for young researchers on globalization, cosmopolitanism and Turkey, Professor Chris Rumford has passed away.

Chris is a world-leading scholar, dedicated to always helping young researchers from different parts of the world, and he successfully presided over the UK Global Studies Association for many years. He always supported Changing Turkey events by personally attending many of them, aiding and sponsoring their organization. He is the one who first inspired and encouraged us to develop ChangingTurkey blog and he was a senior advisor to ChangingTurkey research group. We are sure that you will feel his loss as much as we do.

As ChangingTurkey team we extend our sincere condolences to Chris’s family, friends, and colleagues.

Chris’ departmental profile is available here: https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/chris-rumford(5901db04-0f97-411a-87b5-787a7c7dd95a).html

Chris’ funeral will take place on 2nd August at 2pm at Easthampstead Park Crematorium, Wokingham.

Chris’ family has decided to set up a just giving page in memory of Chris, so that people can donate money to the Multiple System Atrophy Trust, which is a trust for the condition that Chris had suffered with. Any donations, small or large would be greatly appreciated as this would’ve been something that Chris would’ve wanted. Thank you in advance. The link for this is justgiving.com/fundraising/chrisrumford

Chris will be missed dearly.

Date: 13 July 2016 (Wednesday)

Venue: Istanbul Kemerburgaz University (Mahmutbey campus)

We invite doctoral  students to present their research in International Relations, Political Science and Public Administration in a friendly and motivating atmosphere. At the end of the presentations, there will be a roundtable organized by Assoc. Prof. Alper Kaliber, Assist. Prof. Tolga Demiryol, Assist. Prof. Aslı Yılmaz Uçar, Assist. Prof. Tuba Turan and Assist. Prof. Didem Buhari Gulmez, which will give the opportunity to discuss several key issues such as (1) publishing in internationally recognized journals and book series; (2) preparing national and international research projects; and (3) pursuing academic research abroad as doctoral or postdoctoral fellows.

All PhD students  in International Relations, Political Science and Public Administration at Turkish Universities are welcome. Presentations can be made in either Turkish or English. There is no participation fee. Participants are responsible of their own expenses. There will be refreshments.

Please send your short abstract proposals (max. 200 words) to didem.buhari@kemerburgaz.edu.tr by 1st July.

The call in Turkish is available here: Kolokyum İKBU


British International Studies Association Working Group on South East Europe and Aston Centre for Europe present:
Refugee Crisis in South East Europe
21 June 2016, Aston University

12.30 Registration & Welcome

13.00 Panel 1: Turkey, EU and the Refugee Crisis
Rhetorically Entrapped No More: the EU, Turkey and the migration crisis
Natalie Martin, The Nottingham Trent University
Turkey’s 2013 Migration Policy Reform in the Context of the EU Deal
Kelsey Norman, University of California, Irvine
Repercussions on the Protection of (Asylum) Rights and Welfare for Refugees in Europe
Henriette Holm Johansen The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs

15.15 Panel 2: Regional & Local Dynamics in South East Europe
Reconfiguring Diversity within New Corridors of Forced Migration: 2015 Refugee Crisis & the Question of Multiculturalism in the post-Yugoslav Space
Julia Sardeljic, University of Liverpool
Serbia and the Refugee Crisis: Solidarity Within Policy Shifts
Jovan Teokarevic, Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade
To what extent is the refugee crisis affecting EU-Balkan relations?
Ruth Ferrero Turrion, Universidad Complutense, Madrid
From a close distance: individual reactions to the ‘refugee crisis’ at the Romanian Borders
Julien Danero Iglesias, University of Glasgow

17.15-18.30 Keynote Panel
Changing Dynamics of the Refugee Crisis in Serbia
Marta Stojic Mitrovic, Serbian Academy of Arts & Sciences
Place in the Midst of Movement – Diaspora Translocal Engagement for Post-Conflict Reconstruction
Deneta Karabegović and Maria Koinova, University of Warwick

This event is free & open to all. Reserve a place here: http://bit.ly/26oopkZ
Aston University, Main Building, Room TBC Aston Triangle, Birmingham B16 8DD.https://bisasoutheasteurope.wordpress.com

 By Umut Can ADISÖNMEZ (Research Associate)

Could you please tell us about your background and previous studies?

I am currently Assistant Professor of Modern Turkey at the Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of 13054929_10101027363571971_669607740_oGraz. Previously I was a doctoral candidate in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, where my research looked at political and institutional change in Iran and Turkey. As part of my PhD, I studied Persian at Isfahan University and conducted field work in Iran and taught courses on Middle East politics and theories of democracy and democratisation at the LSE. Before entering academia, I spent several years working as a political analyst in London and teaching English in Indonesia. I took my Bachelor’s degree in History from Brown University in the USA and M.Phil in International Relations from the University of Cambridge. My M.Phil thesis was a comparative study of military reform and democratisation in Turkey and Indonesia. I was born and raised in Istanbul and even though I haven’t lived there regularly since 2001, I travel back very frequently and try to spend at least a few months in Turkey every year.

What are the deficiencies in Turkish academic literature related to your field?

There is already a large and growing number of wonderful academics from Turkey – based both inside and outside the country – conducting impressive research in history, society and politics of the country. In Graz, I also see how young academics from Turkey are increasingly active in area studies beyond the traditional focus of Turkey-EU or Turkey-US relations. However, I still find the Turkish academic literature on the Middle East in general, and in particular on Iran, very limited. For decades, Iran was presented to Turks as a backward theocratic dystopia and I guess old habits really die hard. In reality, Iran is not only a fascinating place with a rich history, poetic language and complex socio-political structures, but it is also a crucial actor that we in Turkey need to better understand and engage with if we are to stay ahead of fast changing regional dynamics.

Could you recommend any articles or books which were recently published?

Cihan Tugal’s The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism (Verso: 2016) is a surgical, thought-provoking and damning account of why and how everything went so wrong for Turkey regionally and domestically in such short time. On Iran, I look forward to Hamid Dabashi’s Iran Without Borders: Towards a Critique of the Postcolonial Nation, which will come out (also from Verso) in August. On democratisation studies, Nancy Bermeo’s article “On Democratic Backsliding” (Journal of Democracy, Volume 27, Number 1, January 2016, pp. 5-19) sheds a new light on cases where the very institutions that democracy promoters once prioritised (such as elections) are now being used to legitimise democratic backsliding; a work with important implications for Turkey.

Could you please tell us about your recent works and your future plans in the field?

Last year, together with my colleague in Graz, Professor Kerem Öktem, we co-founded the Consortium for European Symposia on Turkey (CEST) bringing together leading European research institutions with the aim of organising annual academic events on Turkey, making the field of Turkish studies more accessible to the debates in social sciences and creating platforms of networking and visibility particularly for younger academics through publications and awards. The inaugural symposium was held in Graz in October 2015 with the title “Populism, Majoritarianism and Crises of Illiberal Democracy”. We had a fascinating two and a half days of discussion based on 20 high quality papers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and are now in the process of compiling the best papers in a special issue. The second CEST symposium is being organised by Sciences Po and will take place in Paris on 1-2 December 2016 with the theme “Politics from below in Turkey and beyond”. (You can find the Call for Papers here: https://www.facebook.com/CESTurkey/posts/621069548042745.)

I am also the managing editor of a new research blog that we launched recently at the Centre for Southeast European Studies aimed at facilitating discussion on research experiences from the wider region. We cover a range of issues and categories, including notes from archives, methodological challenges, experiences in the field and broader reflections on conducting research on the region from an interdisciplinary background. The idea is to build the blog into an open platform for researchers at all levels and disciplines. We welcome contributions and proposals from researchers everywhere: http://www.suedosteuropa.uni-graz.at/blog/index.php/submissions/

On an individual level, it’s a busy year of teaching. Presently I co-teach courses Interdisciplinary Research Methods, Political Systems in the 21st century and a two-semester lecture series on the History of Modern Turkey, from the late Ottoman Empire to Present Day. When not teaching or traveling, I am busy writing preparing the manuscript of my PhD dissertation for publication as a monograph as well as writing three academic papers ahead of conferences I will participate in this year, one on regime transformation in Turkey and two comparative political analyses of Iran and Turkey, basically offshoots of my doctoral research.

I occasionally comment on everyday politics and social issues in Turkey and its neighbourhood in forums such as Open Democracy, Huffington Post, or (in Turkey) Diken.com.tr, but lately I’ve been finding it more difficult to spare time for these types of contributions.


Paris, 1-2 December 2016.

Submission Deadline: 15 June 2016.

The Centre for International Studies (CERI) at Sciences Po, together with the Consortium of European Symposia on Turkey (CEST), is delighted to invite paper submissions for a Symposium to be held from December 1-2, 2016 at Sciences Po in Paris, France.

The Symposium on Politics from Below in Turkey and beyond seeks to identify and discuss, in comparative perspective, the dynamics, effects and modes of “politics from below”. We use the broad wording “politics from below” in a heuristic fashion, in order to question classical definitions of the “political”. This framing aims to suggest different understandings of politics. Political science on Turkey and the wider region has long been dominated by top-down and macro approaches, addressing mainly national institutions, political leaders, public discourses and legislative productions.

However, sociology has shown that taking in account the implementation of policies by lower administrators, as well as their reception by citizens, challenges common perceptions of political processes. Anthropology has widely challenged the institutional and formal definitions of politics. Gender studies, as well as subaltern studies, have called for broader conceptions of politics. New conceptualizations have been proposed, like “infrapolitics” (Scott), “politique par le bas” (Bayart, Mbembe, Toulador), “vernacular politics” (White) or “low politics” (Bayart). Constructionist approaches have addressed the question from yet another perspective, suggesting that there is nothing “essentially” political, and that “the political”, on the contrary, is constructed and contested.

The aim of this symposium is to open up the very definition of “politics” and discuss multiple social practices whose “political” dimension is at stake. Approaching politics from below encourages us to question the shifting borders and conceptualizations of politics. The symposium therefore encourages several pathways: firstly, to get away from event-driven and institutional analyses of politics by giving more attention to the everyday and the ordinary; secondly, to analyze the multiple social uses of institutions and devices in general; thirdly, to account for a wider range of actors (not only “professional” politicians but also citizens, consumers, residents, lower bureaucrats or activists, street-corner shopkeepers, hackers, etc.) and a wider range of practices (registration, consumption, migration, gossip and denunciation, but also aesthetics, etc.).

How does taking in account politics from below challenge our understanding of power dynamics? “Politics from below” is easily equated with resistance, subversion or autonomy – especially in times of growing authoritarianism. However, politics from below does not necessarily mean contestation, and may as well consolidate domination. Do larger transformations impact politics from below? For instance, does growing authoritarianism lead to the politicization of social phenomena or to the contrary to depoliticization dynamics – may be both at the same time? Does neoliberalism impact ways of doing politics, for example fuel the informalization of politics? How does this dimension challenge our understanding of power dynamics in contemporary Turkey and beyond?

Abstract submissions should engage with one or several of the following themes:

  1. Politics from below. A critical assessment

Which are the main conceptual debates on politics from below? What is the explanatory and heuristic power of concepts such as “infrapolitics”, “low politics”, “politique par le bas”, “vernacular politics”, etc.? Is politics from below a mere residue or does is challenge core meanings of power dynamics?

  1. Informal politics

How is politics entangled in presumably non-political phenomena (personal networks, solidarity ties)? How does taking in account those dimensions alter our understanding of politics? To what extent do visible politics (party politics, state policies, etc.) rely on such informal networks and to what extent are they autonomous from them?

  1. Transactions and negotiations

How are public but also organizational (party, NGO, etc.) policies implemented in practice? How can we analyze the multiple social uses of institutions and public policies? To what extent does a look at street-level bureaucrats or activists change our understanding of policies or politics? Which kinds of negotiations and transactions do institutional and formal policies give birth to? To what extent do these negotiations change the meaning of those initiatives?

  1. Challenging the borders of the political. Politicization and depoliticization in practice

Which (new) areas are contested as a political domain – for example as spheres of public policy and contest? Do political cleavages get into new spheres of practice (economy, professional organizations, education, lifestyle, reproduction)? How do different actors reframe issues or actions as being political or not? How does the label of “political” impact the legitimacy of issues, actors or initiatives?

  1. Contestation and the consolidation of hegemony.

What are the effects of these forms of politics from below – do they fuel resistance, accommodation or consolidate domination? How to assess the subversive dimension of politics from below?

We welcome applications from all fields related to the study of society and politics, with a particular interest in comparative work. We would also like to stress our interest in historical studies and a critical debate on the conclusions, which can be drawn from those historical cases for our understanding of politics from below today. Our regional emphasis is on Turkey and its region, but we welcome comparative or conceptual work from other world regions, as long as it promises valuable insights for our regional angle.

Applicants are invited to submit:

  • an abstract of max. 300 words,
  • a CV of max. 300 words,
  • a full CV (table form) with publications if applicable.

The submission deadline is 15 June 2016. Please note that incomplete applications will not be considered.


Convenor: Elise Massicard

Who can apply: PhD Students, Post-Docs and academics. Advanced Master students may apply, if their proposal is based on fresh empirical work.

Submission deadline: 15 June 2016

Submission requirements: 300 word abstract, 300 word CV, publication list.

Submission mailbox: CESTSymposium@gmail.com

Expenses: Accommodation for two nights and travel expenses will be reimbursed. Travel expenses will be reimbursed according to the country of your institution, i.e. for Europe (incl. Turkey) up to 300 Euro.

Submission of papers: Draft papers will have to be submitted by mid-October.

Publication: We will support the publication of the best papers.

Successful applicants will be informed mid-July 2016.

Please consult Dr. Elise Massicard for further information: elise.massicard@sciencespo.fr

This Symposium is convened as part of the Consortium for European Symposia on Turkey (CEST) which is funded by Stiftung Mercator. CEST is committed to the study of modern Turkey by bringing together the expertise of leading European research institutions: Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, London School of Economics, SciencesPo Paris, Stockholm University, Universität Hamburg, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Leiden University, Network Turkey.

Turam, Berna, Gaining Freedoms: Claiming Space in Istanbul and Berlin, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015. pp. 264. ISBN: 9780804793629.

Reviewed by Defne Kadıoğlu Polat (2015/2016 Stiftung Mercator-Istanbul Policy Center Fellow at Sabancı University)

Sociologist Berna Turam, whose book debut “Between Islam and the State: the Politics of Engagement” (2007) was apid_22821 major success, strikes again with her 2015 publication on urban democratic practices in Istanbul and Berlin. Using ethnographic methods, Turam analyzes the formation of political identities, alliances and fault lines in the two metropolises asking what the importance of urban space and citizenship are for democracy. Her answer is that the quality of democracy, particular in settings in which institutional democracy is weakening, is highly dependent on everyday urban contestations and alliances build across different social groups.

Turam argues in the beginning of her book “Gaining Freedoms: Claiming Space in Istanbul and Berlin” that urban researchers have typically paid attention to socio-economic inequalities in cities when trying to explain the emergence of urban social movements and struggles over space. She claims that while class and material opportunities certainly matter, the significance of political identities and issues such as the advocacy of human rights beyond socio-economic interest and background have so far been ignored in academia. And this is where her newly published book comes in.

Her ethnographic study is based on three sites – an upper class neighborhood (Teşvikiye) and a liberal university campus in Istanbul and Berlin’s famous ‘immigrant district’ Kreuzberg. By defining democratization as a process in which alliances are build between groups and individuals that belong to different classes, ethnicities, generations and sexes in favor of the advocacy of universal freedoms and rights, Turam argues that particularly socially mixed spaces can turn into important sites for democratic struggle “because they unsettle conventional ideological divides and free people from ancient fault lines.” (p.16)

While common knowledge tells us that Turkey’s most significant fault line is the one between the secular and the religious parts of the population, Turam shows that in face of Turkey’s increasing authoritarianism, pious Muslims and secular groups have frequently come together to stand up for universal rights and freedoms such as the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Turam for example tells the story of secular students on the Istanbul campus she scrutinized and who protested for the right of female students to enter the campus with headscarves. She also argues that the Gezi protests that erupted across Turkey in the summer of 2013, though initiated by secular middle class Istanbulites, were joined by a number of groups who initially shared little commonalities, such as practicing Muslims, Alevis, as well as working-class Turks and Kurds. For Turkey, Turam thus maintains that while the population seems extremely polarized, repressive politics have actually softened social divisions at times when the rights of all groups in society were at stake.

For Berlin, Turam describes that while there are divisions among the Turkish Diaspora in Germany, different social groups who can be considered as social outcasts such as Turkish immigrants, LGBTQ individuals or former anarchists all feel at home at Kreuzberg and are ready to come together when they need to defend the unique character of their socially mixed neighborhood.

Turam’s book is impressive in that it goes against the grain: she does not take pre-established social divisions for granted but instead analyzes under which circumstances people in two very different societies –Germany and Turkey- stand united despite their disparities. Her identification of the urban as primary site of democratic struggle is particularly intriguing given that we all have witnessed multiple of such struggles within the last decade. Moreover, Turam stresses the value of loose rather than close-knit neighborhood ties for building alliances between different social groups which is a remarkable point. She very plausibly argues that fault lines within groups that have historically (more or less) stood together, such as pious Muslims in Turkey or immigrants in Germany, are actually beneficial for democracy because these groups then have to rely on democratic institutions instead of their ‘communities’. This in turn means they have to fight for the proper working of these institutions and they frequently do so with the help of people from outside their own ‘in-group’.

However, there is at least one substantial point that may be considered problematic in Turam’s work: that is Turam’s claim to depict political identity formation and alliances among different groups, instead of staying confined to the realm of socio-economic analysis. This is one of the cornerstones of her analysis. She acknowledges the importance of material structures, but argues that urban contestation tells us something beyond that. Struggles such as the Gezi uprisings are not necessarily connected to class position and material interest and thus must be accounted for otherwise, she says. This is, however, a bold claim that may need some qualification. The question is really how we can separate political from socio-economic analysis and whether we should attempt to do so. While Turam frequently acknowledges the difference in material opportunities among the social groups that come together for urban contestation, she does not really tell us what this implies in terms of her analysis.

Another matter worth debating and again related to Turam’s analytical separation of political from socioeconomic issues is that she argues that Istanbul has –as an unintended result of the  AKP rule- “changed from being a ‘divided’ city into a more ‘integrated’ mixed geography” (p. 30). While in the past, so Turam says, Istanbul was divided into more religious-conservative and secular spaces, today it is quite common to encounter both social groups within one neighborhood. In fact Istanbul today is more segregated in terms of socioeconomic inequality than it has ever been before with poor populations increasingly being pushed to the periphery of the city. Hence, the fact that women wearing headscarves are today maybe more likely to be seen in what Turam labels secular neighborhoods is probably not enough evidence to suggest that Istanbul is more integrated today than it was in the past.

Despite the need to engage critically with these points, “Gaining Freedoms: Claiming Space in Istanbul and Berlin” is certainly to be recommended in that it shifts our focus from ancient societal conflicts to the circumstances under which inter-group solidarity becomes possible, giving us hope for a new road to democratization even under the aggravation of repressive policies.

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