The Meanings of the People in Turkish Politics: A Genealogy
PhD defence by Spyros Sofos.
This thesis is intended to make a contribution to ongoing efforts to enhance our understanding of the “popular” in the study of politics through a critical examination of the uses and constructions of the people in Turkish politics since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, to the present in order to distinguish between different modalities of appeals to the “people” and their implications. The choice of Turkey is by no means accidental. The notion of the “people” has been central in the political discourse of the republic, and even in the late Ottoman era. The new nation state of Turkey declared that it was a “populist” state, with a strong anti-elitist and emancipatory emphasis and a promise of radical equality in its founding principles. The “people” has adorned the names of some of the key parties and many of the peripheral ones in the history of the republic, including some of the ones that sprang out of the Kurdish national movements. And, finally, the politics of the past twenty years have been described by researchers and the media as “populist”, so much so that Turkey has become for many a textbook case of populist politics. It is therefore interesting and potentially theoretically fruitful to explore the way the notion of the “people”, and the allied notions of the “national” and the “vernacular” have been shaped by the history of the republic, and, in turn, have informed ways of visualising society and politics and framed the parameters and repertoires of political action.
Appeals to the people (often conflated with the nation as the words halk - people. and millet – nation, have frequently been used interchangeably) have been central in Turkish political discourse both left and right, secular, nationalist and Islamist and have been used both as a pretext for legitimizing curtailments of the democratic process and for the perpetration of human rights abuses on the one hand, and as a means of democratic political mobilization on the other, yet the term people has been used to refer to diverse parts of the population and to denote diverse political values and cultures in time and space.
Stemming out of the belief that research such as the one presented in this thesis needs to be grounded on social historical analysis, and draw on genealogical research that allows us to situate the processes of “the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects” (Foucault 2003:306), especially those that we tend to consider that are without history, in the context of particular power configurations over time (Foucault 1977: 139). The thesis thus, seeks to offer a nuanced and historicised understanding of the notion of the “people”, its career and permutations, to suggest ways of demarcating the vernacular, the “popular” and the “populist” during this period and mapping the ways these have intersected and interacted with each other.
To this end, the thesis explores the ways that “the people” have been interpellated as well as “labelled” since the outbreak of the Turkish war of liberation and will follow the intellectual and political debates around it as well as the development of relevant policies. In this context, it will also examine the use of “contiguous” concepts such as “nation”, “peasantry” in order to establish distinctions or interrelations between them and situate the notion of “the people” in a broader conceptual field and in the context of a genealogy of the “ people” as a concept, a political subject, the object of policy and politics over the past century. It will propose novel ways of reading and making sense of its insertion and operationalization in Turkish politics, and political culture. The thesis engages with approaches that allow a nuanced understanding of the “popular” in politics such as the study of plebeian culture, and the making of plebeian and popular subjectivities Thompson (1971; 1974 and 1978) as well as perspectives within the contemporary debate on populism that can throw light in developments in Turkish politics.
In terms of methodology, this project seeks to contribute to a genealogical research that will reconstruct the social historical and power contexts in which the “people” and “discourses about the people” emerge and change over time and will attempt to make sense of them from sociological, cultural and social psychological perspectives. As such, this project has a trans- and inter-disciplinary dimension, as it attempts to translate, use and integrate concepts and modes of analysis from a diverse body of scholarship such as sociology, cultural studies, psychosocial studies, political science and political theory into the genealogical narrative.
The analysis of the material examined relies on a what J.B. Thompson (1984) has termed a “depth hermeneutical procedure”, attempting to reconstruct the social historical conditions within which agents act and interact. Such a process pays attention to the power constellations, institutional and cultural features of the periods examined and situates in these the study of discourse and action bearing in mind the discursivity of action (the ability of action to generate and alter meaning) and the materiality of discourse (the ways in which discourses transform social reality, inform, enable and constrain action). To this end, I analyse aspects of political, cultural and, to a lesser extent, vernacular discourse, political and collective action and interaction and performance, policy and legal frameworks.
- Professor Catharina Raudvere (University of Copenhagen)
- Associate Professor Bahar Baser Ozturk (Coventry University)
- Associate Professor Paul Levin (University of Stockholm)
Moderator of the defence
- Associate Professor Morten Warmind (University of Copenhagen)
Copies of the thesis will be available for consultation at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, Karen Blixens Plads 8, building 10, 2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark.