BRAVE NEW TURKEY: Contesting the Production and Valuation of Bodies, Urban Space, and Ecology

Thesis Type:

PhD dissertation


In this ethnography, I examine fragmented urban and social dynamics in Istanbul, Turkey. The issues of the country are mirrored and coalesced into these dynamics. Binaries of proper/valuable versus improper/abjected city and citizens emerge from a “New Turkey” politics. This creates hierarchies of bodies, urban spaces, ecological practices, and types of knowledge. Rooted in historical de/valuation processes, Turkey’s current technologies of power intensify and gain new momentum and scale. Lawfare, identity politics, urban planning, and technocratic ecological strategies are instrumental in implementing interdependent urban and social transformation. Drawing on two years of fieldwork, I analyze the contestation of governmental actors, local authorities, environmental activists, local residents, and garbage workers over the production and valuation of bodies, space, and ecology. From this, I address the broader picture of classist, gendered, ethnic, and racist discrimination as a process that most evidently manifests itself in urban space.

The socio-spatial impact of a “New Turkey” is most starkly felt among the urban poor whose livelihood depends on environmental practices. Here, I focus on a specific group that is invisible for many: non-municipal garbage workers who are targets of intersectional devaluation. Through green(wash)ing strategies, their homes are displaced by “healthy and sustainable” luxury housing projects and infrastructure. They are treated as second-class citizens and, therefore, socially and economically immobilized. At the same time, they contest the authorities over garbage as a commodity, and the law criminalizes their recycling practices. Conflict and resistance occur not only between actors but also within institutions, activist movements, and affected communities. As various players share risks, new—and sometimes unexpected—alliances are formed under the common goals of social and environmental justice and rights to the city. The ambiguity of all of this is reflected in the title: “BRAVE NEW TURKEY.” On the one hand it speaks to the forging of the current hegemonic Turkishness and Turkish urban landscape under the banner of the “New Turkey” politics. On the other hand a “brave new Turkey” addresses the creative conflict and resistance against this dystopian moment of governing bodies, urban space, and ecology. Indeed, this research deals with the continuous efforts of various groups who claim their place in their “new Turkey.” Under the current political and social circumstances, I consider this an act of bravery. After all, a new Turkey belongs not only to the hegemonically powerful but also to those who shape the country’s future through their creative struggle for diversity and inclusion.

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