Social Conflict and the Politicization of Cullture in Turkey

It is no coincidence that current political debate over the Islamist Welfare Party revolves around the term “lifestyle.” The dominant camps in this conflict draw their bases of support from groups with quite different lifestyles. The Islamist Welfare Party, while developing its own bourgeoisie and its new intellectuals, grew by winning broad support from the old and new gecekondu populations with its populist motto of “pure and just order.” Opposed to it is a loose group consisting of the radical bourgeoisie, state bureaucrats, the army, the urban middle classes, Kemalist intellectuals, the “Second Republicans,” and some radical intellectuals. Secularism and the Western–modern way of life are about the only common ground this otherwise incompatible alliance has.

It is clear that class does not correspond “properly” to political culture because class boundaries in Turkey have been increasingly crosscut by contradictory and hybrid cultural constructs of religion, ethnicity, nationalism, lifestyle, and gender. The culture of the popular classes can be opposed as “alienated” or “backward” by their supposedly counterpart intellectuals, as has been the case with arabesk culture. At the same time, regressiveness and racism can become popular among the subordinated, as is epitomized in the Sivas massacre and the rise of a popularized nationalist fervor suppressing the Kurdish issue. It is not just because the official, public political sphere in Turkey is so very restricted that social conflicts have been increasingly expressed in the language of culture since the 1980s; the politicization of culture itself has been a major factor in and consequence of the project and process of Turkish modernity from its inception. In that sense, the contradiction that inheres in the formation and appraisals of arabesk culture continue with Turkish society: the contradiction between a dominant nationalist and paternalist incapacity to live with difference and a deep, unrealized popular capacity to change and accept difference through hybridization.

Meral Özbek, “Arabesk Culture: A case of modernization and Popular Identity,” Sibel Bozdogan and Resat Kasaba, eds., Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997) 228.


documenting fragments

If I need to remember information about something--a place, a building typology, a cultural form--I start an entry for it and add to it as I learn more. Examples of entries include things like Republic Monument, Transportation, AKM, Mosques, Synagogues, Shopping, Cinema, Food, Music, Istiklal Caddesi, Signage...and so on.

documentation...starting to format


uh huh

First, many of the writers find that the Turkish project of modernity, in the way it was conceived under the sponsorship and priorities of the nation-state, has been flawed and problematical from its inception, compromised precisely by some of the things that were done in the name of modernity. Second, they agree that both politically and intellectually, the current critical climate is an opportunity, albeit a precarious one (without any convincing indication so far that the opportunity has been seized), for rectifying the initial flaw toward a more democratic, pluralist, and creative unleashing of the country’s potential.
from Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey


Draft Table of Contents (Thesis Prep Document Countdown: 25 days more or less)



Picturesque and Picturesque’

- Cultural theory and identity construction (Appadurai…)

- History of constructed identity in Taksim/Turkey (Republican era modernism, Taksim mosque depate, AKM debate)

- Cultural Landscape (artificiality, constructedness, naturalness, evenness, difference)

Secularism and Islam

- History in Turkey (address founding of republic, political timeline, progression)

- Debates today: headscarves, AKP, threat of military coup, bid for EU membership, public representation (city seal of Ankara, historicist building campaign)


Atatürk Kültür Merkezi

- History

- Mission

- Current Controversy: maintain or demolish and rebuild?

- Existing Program (block diagram + spreadsheet)

- AKM in popular imagination / public role

Precedent Studies

(size, location, founding/current mission, who funded/built it, public/private, activities that occur there, target audience/constituency, production of social space, degrees of difference…)

- Lincoln Center

- Seattle Public Library

- Idea Stores

- Rivington Place

- Peabody Terrace?

- Walker Art Center?

- Cardiff Bay Opera?

- Example of mosque cultural center…?


Istanbul Demographics / AKM Constituency

Cultural Centers in Istanbul and Turkey

- Map locations (size, type, audience)

- Typologies (bank, shopping mall, performance space)

Role of “Culture” in Istanbul Life

- What is considered “culture”?

- High and Low culture (do these categories exist? How distinguished?)

- Participants in cultural activities (How do they participate? How often? Where?)

- Importance of cultural activities to the life of the city and its inhabitants

Site Research

- Site Plan

- Transportation study (public transportation modes, frequency, accessibility; vehicular traffic, pedestrian flows)

- User group study (see above—interviews w/ public in Taksim Square)

- Study of Cinemas in Taksim/Beyoglu (map location, size, group into high/low culture + clientele, identify type of film)

- Study of Music Performance Spaces in Taksim/Beyoglu (map location, size, group into high/low culture + clientele, identify type of music)

- Study of Theaters in Taksim/Beyoglu (map location, size, group into high/low culture + clientele, identify type of theater)

- Study of Mosques in Taksim/Beyoglu (map locations + sizes)

- Study of Churches in Taksim/Beyoglu

- Land Use (Commercial, mixed, residential, cultural…)

- Photographic survey of fashion? (starting with website + photos downloaded)


- Tabanlioglu, architect of the AKM

- Omer Kanipak, founder/manager of Arkitera, Turkey’s premier architectural website

- AKM staff: building director, ensemble directors

- People involved in cultural productions: music, arts, theater, film

- Patrons of the AKM

- Public inhabitants of Taksim Square

- Jenny White, BU


Proposed Program

- Multiple options (what they produce: degrees of difference, social conditions)

- Additions/Subtractions

- Final Program proposal

Registers of Difference…?

Categories of evaluation…?


- Things I’ve read

- Things I intend to read


Deploying the picturesque in a cultural mode

Picturesque : Landscape = Picturesque’ : Cultural Landscape

Picturesque - an artificial/constructed mode of revealing the actuality of the environment or landscape through sensory experience in motion, especially along a serial/unfolding/undulating path that carries the viewer through layered and juxtaposed perceptions of space.

Landscape - a constructed physical environment, possibly understood in a pictorial mode as an expanse of scenery that can be seen in single view from one perspective; visible features of an area of land, including physical, living, abstract, and human elements; [an extensive mental viewpoint].

Picturesque’ – an artificial/constructed mode of revealing, through sensory experience, some of the complex and interwoven relationships and positions which, taken collectively, approximate/approach the cultural/social actuality, especially as achieved by enticing the subject through layered and juxtaposed perceptions of space which that subject would not otherwise inhabit.

Cultural Landscape - the layering/overlapping/imbrication of varied subjectivities which are multiply projected by a vast number of isolated/embedded perspectives onto particular groups that may be identified as possessing common social, physical, or temporal relationships; a subjective abstract construct; [an extensive mental viewpoint].


Humphry Repton's Picturesque

The single view is never complete. It is only by moving through space, and viewing the same thing from multiple positions, that one can acquire a richness of understanding. Deceit eventually leads to revelation.