Fatal Workplace Injuries in the İstanbul Tuzla Shipyards and the Obsession with Economic Development in Turkey
Murat Kazim Guney
This dissertation focuses on workplace accidents, a chronic problem in Turkey. I conducted my fieldwork in İstanbul’s Tuzla shipyards, where approximately 160 workers have died in work accidents since 1992. The Tuzla shipyards are both a symbol of negative working conditions and chronic work accidents in Turkey, and a site where the definitions, causes, and effects of work accidents are problematized, examined, and contested. In my research, I explore the ways in which various conflicting actors describe, identify, and explain accidents at work in relation to contested understandings, discourses, and practices of development.
To be sure, the definition of accidents at work as preventable or inevitable dramatically shape the evaluation of the problem and the ways in which work accidents were acted upon or not by contesting actors. While I examine the ways that work accidents are identified I also investigate how different actors legitimized their positions in relation to contested understandings of development.
The enduring nature of workplace injuries in rapidly developing Turkey has caused many activists and academics to question the contemporary obsession with development and the belief that economic growth will inevitably lead to social justice. Following these critical insights, I investigate the relationship between the prioritization of national economic growth and the persistence of workplace injuries in Turkey.
Although I analyze the critiques of work accidents as critiques of the obsession with economic development, I also observed a more complicated narrative of class mobility and the aspiration for development amongst the working class themselves. The Tuzla shipyards zone is not only a uniquely dense industrial zone where workplace injuries are common, but also a unique site where a few workers have been able to quickly form their own subcontractor companies and benefit from rapid economic growth in the shipyards. Based on my ethnographic observations I argue that the dominant discourse about development also affects working classes’ aspirations and their desires to have a better life.