Folds of Authoritarianism: Political Mobilization, Financial Capitalism, and Islamism in Turkey
Beginning with 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has mobilized millions of Turkish citizens from the most impoverished districts of Istanbul. Based on two years of ethnographic engagement in two districts of Istanbul (Esenler and Kucukcekmece), the party’s stronghold, this dissertation focuses on the conjunction of neoliberal economic transformations, mass mobilization and political Islam. By paying close attention to personal histories, daily capacities, emerging hopes and inter-generational grievances of the party members and sympathizers, it investigates how material and financial transformations facilitate and even promote a popular knowledge that authoritarian politics, embodied by the AKP in Turkey, are the only solution for the predicaments of late capitalism. The project aims to problematize some key presumptions of contemporary social scientific analyses, namely individualization, depoliticization, and economic rationality, and investigates the emergence of alternative practices in their steads: self-negation, authoritarian mobilization, and fundamentalist disposition.
To this end, the dissertation intervenes in four current debates of social scientific and public significance. Firstly, against the long standing debates about the character and consequences of neoliberal transformation in the global south, in which the general consensus is that these new economic practices have resulted in depoliticization and apathy among the masses, the project demonstrates that the very same economic polices and practices result in the promotion of a form of mass mobilization that is authoritarian in its characteristics. Second, it intervenes in a related literature about depoliticization, which claims that the contemporary form of capitalism produces isolated individuals, i.e. individuation. The dissertation shows that neoliberal transformations have precipitated a wide range of political and social practices, like self-sacrifice of partisans, which produce alternative modes of political identification and new identities conditioned by economic vulnerability. Third, the research and analysis argues that the critique of bureaucracy and bureaucratic regulations, conceived as sources of unproductivity and institutional rigidities by neoliberal thought collectives, has been appropriated by the masses in Turkey as a part of anti-formalist policies that the AKP propagates. However, the popular critique of bureaucracy among the AKP partisans does not produce a version of liberal governance, in which transparency, flexibility, and accountability are dominant values, but a popular conviction that rules, regulations, and laws may be suspended for the interest of “the people,” thus legitimizing the violation of “bureaucratic” rights, be they human rights, freedom of speech, or fair trial principle. Lastly, this dissertation furthers a significant body of anthropological works on political Islam that complicates the relationships between secularism and religiosity by showing their co-constituted histories. However, it substantially diverges from the trajectory of this literature by shifting the focus from morality to efficacy, from cultural politics to political economy. Ultimately, the purpose of the dissertation is to understand how neoliberal economic transformations provided a suitable social, material and political context for religiously informed authoritarian practices without attributing any essentialized qualities to their religious characteristics.