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Expanding Religion and Islamic Morality in Turkey

The Role of the Diyanet’s Women Preachers

Chiara Maritato

Despite scholars’ tremendous interest in the dynamics of Turkish laicism, little to no attention has been paid to the actors and the practices through which Islamic morality is propagated among society every day. This article investigates the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet)’s policy that has been increasing the number of women working as preachers since 2003. To what extent and how does the employment of the Diyanet’s women preachers affect the way in which religion and Islamic public morality grow and are spread in Turkey today? What specifically is women’s contribution in this respect? Drawing on an ethnographic observation of the Diyanet’s women preachers’ activities in Istanbul mosques, the article outlines how they contribute to reshaping Turkish laicism while diffusing Islamic morality in the public space.

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Inheriting and Living the Political

The Leftist Youth Subculture in Istanbul

Lorenzo D’Orsi

This article, based on ethnography conducted in Istanbul, focuses on the experience of the political among young, far-left Turkish militants and young adults whose parents belong to the ’78 revolutionary generation. It shows how their ‘red youth subculture’ is imbricated with family, solidarity and generational bonds. Through the analysis of ritualised political practices such as the May Day parades, the feeling of nostalgia for a never-lived past, political meetings and the role of politics in families, it argues that the experience of the political is irreducible to a set of strategies and ideas: it consists of affections, corporeal sensations, embodied knowledge, aesthetic choices and material culture, which all contribute to substantialise relationships with the state, forms of intimacy and practices of distinction.

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Introduction

Rethinking Power in Turkey through Everyday Practices

Élise Massicard

In an increasingly authoritarian Turkish context that precludes any serious chance of making tangible political gains, challenging common conception of ‘the political’ may expand our understanding of power dynamics. Attempting to track power relations outside the most official, legitimate, conventional and formalised forms of politics provides alternative and sharper insights into how the political is being reframed and how actors retain, uphold, perpetuate or transform their capacity for agency. In an interdisciplinary perspective, but drawing mainly on anthropological literature and methodology, the issue addresses four questions – both empirically in the Turkish case and more conceptually: politicisation, visibility, social stratification and domination.

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Lawyers against the Law

The Challenge of Turkish Lawyering Associations

Joakim Parslow

Despite increasing subordination of the judiciary to executive authorities, Turkish cause lawyering associations are more assertive than ever in their defiance of forced closures and legal persecution. Why would activist lawyers ‘play the game’ of law when the legal system is being undermined? Focusing on the historical genesis of Turkey’s oldest activist lawyering association, the Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği (ÇHD), I argue that Turkish legal activism results from not just clashing political causes but also the strategies attorneys are forced to adopt to effect change within an authoritarian-corporatist structure designed to constrict their activities. The ÇHD and similar groups are not merely extensions of the formal juridical order; they also constitute a grassroots engagement with the law that refuses to conform to the categories, narratives, procedures and ends of the state’s legal institutions.

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The Mahalle as Margin of the State

Shifting Sensitivities in Two Neighbourhood Spaces of Istanbul

Urszula Woźniak

The neighbourhood-based battles over norms and values in the ethnically diverse as well as sexual and gendered urban landscapes of the Istanbul neighbourhood (mahalle) spaces of Tophane and Kurtuluş reflect the complexity of the current political transformations that have been shaping Turkey as a whole and Istanbul in particular before and after the 15 July 2016 coup attempt. The analysis of the mahalle as the state’s margin reflects on how public moral talk, including the notion of ‘sensitivity’ (hassasiyet), reverberates in the making of public morality in both neighbourhood spaces. This article specifically focuses on the role of rumours in mediating ideas on behaviour deemed as in/appropriate in the mahalle as ‘moral territory’ and the mundane practices of self-appointed old and new ‘guards’ of the mahalle.

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Politics in the Piyasa

Marching, Marketing and the Emergence of Gay Identities in Istanbul

Samuel Williams

The emergence of gay identities in Istanbul is often regarded as a practical result of mobilisation by minority sexual rights NGOs. Indeed, Istanbul Pride emerged in the early 2000s as a widely-referenced exemplar of the political promise of street-level activism in Turkey. Tracing how gay initially was used in the nightlife market around İstiklal Street and reconstructing the early history of agitation for an annual Pride march, I argue that street traders and small-scale entrepreneurs, not street-level campaigners, have played the critical role in prising open spaces where men could come to identify themselves and be identified as gay. Moreover, spaces afforded by particular fixed-place businesses in the nightlife market critically shaped the initial forms of political association involving gay men that were able to develop and consolidate in the city.

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Reports

Behnam Amini, Natalia Suit, and Soheila Shahshahani

Publications

Gareth Stansfield and Mohammed Shareef (eds), The Kurdish Question Revisited (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)

J. R. Osborn, Letters of Light: Arabic Script in Calligraphy, Print, and Digital Design (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017)

Conference

18th IUAES World Congress, ‘Word (of) Encounters: The Past, Present and Future of Anthropological Knowledge’, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, Brazil, 16–20 July 2018

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Aestheticised Rituals and (Non-)Engagement with Norms in Contemporary Turkey

A Contribution to Discussions on Piety and Ethics

Erol Saglam

Drawing on an ethnographic research in some rural communities of Trabzon, Turkey, this article provides insights about the diversity of Islamic pieties and their relations to religious norms. An exploration of everyday Islamic practices in the area demonstrates how piety can take peculiar forms within which norms are both publicly and socially upheld and yet also hollowed out. Among Muslim men of ‘the Valley’ in Trabzon, piety emerges as an aggregate of reiterative practices exterior to the pious self. Highlighting the aestheticised and ritualised state of these engagements with Islam in the Turkish context allows discussion of the relationships among practices of piety, pious subjectivities, and ethics.

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‘Almost Mahram’

Moments of Trust and Kinship in Iran

Rose Wellman

This article explores how an American anthropologist navigated the complicated rules of gender avoidance and veiling while living in the home of Iranian state supporters (or members of the Basij, Iran’s paramilitary organisation) in a provincial town in Fars Province. I argue that mahram is configured and activated not only by the dictums of Islamic law, but also according to contexts such as living circumstances, interpersonal trust and town politics. Mahram extends far beyond marriage exclusion: it is a matter of context and creation – the embodiment of mutual (dis)trust, piety and closeness. The recognition and practice of mahram is shifting, fluid and situational.

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Childless Women in Georgia

Between Religious Restrictions and Medical Opportunities

Elene Gavashelishvili

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is gradually becoming available in Georgia, but while the medical technologies are being developed, the Georgian Orthodox Church opposes the idea of having a child through what it declares to be unnatural ways. Despite the authority of the Church, the Orthodox discourse about IVF is not directly incorporated into the everyday lives of people. Ethnographical observation has allowed an exploration of how childless women in Georgia reconcile modern reproductive technologies with their religion. In order to explain the hybridity in women’s attempts to make official religiosity better adapted to everyday life, I use the concept of bricolage as applied to the social practices of women who assemble different, seemingly disjointed, resources in coping with problematic situations.