Nuriye`s Dilemma: Turkish Lessons of Democracy and the


Nuriye`s Dilemma: Turkish Lessons of Democracy and the
Nuriye's Dilemma: Turkish Lessons of Democracy and the Gendered State
Author(s): Sam Kaplan
Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Aug., 2003), pp. 401-417
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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Ben-GurionUniversityof the Negev
In this article,I explorepoliticalconsciousness
and its relationto language,action, and powerrelationsamongschoolchildrenand their parentsin
a smalltown in southernTurkey.Morespecifically,
I drawon Wittgenstein'sconceptof language
gamesto examinethe ambiguousand indeterminate linksbetweenpoliticaldiscourseand educational practices,especiallyhowthese linksare refractedin everydaylife. Thus,I showthat the term
democracy,as used in the school system, has become a linguistic"scaffold"on whichtownspeople
can arrangethe politicaland social self-images
they use to narratetheir own life coursesand life
strategies.Thissociolinguisticanalysisof a political signifier,whichdrawsout the relationamong
officiallyproscribedcanonsof representation,performancesof hierarchy,and differentunderstandingsof polityand society acrossgenerations,
lays groundwork
for new approachesto the ethnographyof the state. [Turkey,
state, democracy,
political signifier,schooling,languageandsociety]
Nuriye's younger sister opened her social studies book.... Sheread
the chapterentitled, "Whatis Democracy?"three or fourtimes. Then she
closed the book, looked up at the ceiling and mumbled what she had
Individualfreedom is the basis of democracy.Freedommeans that individuals can do anything they want to do, provided that they don't harm
anybody or do anything against the law. In Turkeyone is free to think
whatever one wants, to write whatever one thinks and to publish whatever one writes;one can live anywhere and travel any place. One of the
foundation stones of democracy is equality. Everybodyis equal before
the law. Nobody has any privileges.
his passage is from Isll Ozgenturk's "The Dagger" (1988:88) a
story that throws into dramatic relief the way that cultural
prejudices and gendered social practices in Turkeyrender a young
woman's life precarious.In the story,the heroine Nuriye decides to
escape from an arrangedmarriage after her husband prostitutes
her to other men. Afterher escape, she becomes the mistress of a wealthy
man who helps finance her parents'new home. Yet Nuriye is never free;she
lives in constant fear and dependency. She is constantlyworriedthat her father will stab her in her sleep for shaming family honor. She never enjoys
freedom of expression or mobility,that is, the rightto an autonomous self. In
short, Nuriye cannot experience the democracy described in her sister's social studies book.
By describingthe discrepancybetween the promises of freedom and the
lived experience of a young woman, the story "The Dagger"points to the
complex way that the terms of democracy are configured precisely at the
momentwhen privateselves are inserted in public discourses.l Therefore,to
understand the efficacy of political rhetoric and its signifiers,it is crucial to
consider, as ChantalMouffe (1992:376)argues, how each person articulates
an ensemble of contingent "subjectpositions"that correspondto the multiple, historicallyspecific networkof power relationsand diversediscourses in
which a citizen is immersed. Mouffe's argument has far-reachingimplications. The multiplicityof subject positions undermines the idea of universal
political concepts. Likewise,interpretivevariabilityundermines the idea of a
American Ethnologist 30 (3):401-417. Copyright C)2003, American Anthropological Association.
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American Ethnologist
* Volume30 Number3 August2003
(canonized)citizen-state held in common. Rather,her argument draws out the ambiguous connections of social processes and the use of political language with the fluid social
situations that comprise the day-to-day understandings of
the public sphere.2
Indeed,how people in a particularlocalitydefine,understand, and interpretpolitical regimes and social action has
become a question of great interest to anthropologists. In
recent years, scholarshave exploredhow people throughout
the worldperceive and experience the state as a majoragent
in theirday-to-daylives (e.g.,Anagnost1997;Galand Kligman
2000;Gupta 1995;Guptaand Ferguson 1992;Handler 1988;
Herzfeld1992;Taussig 1997;Trouillot1990,2001). Much attention has centered on the different ways political discourses are refractedin the press, politicalparties,voluntary
associations, and voting booths and howthey are then taken
up in popular discourses (e.g., Appadurai2002; Comaroff
and Comaroff1999;Karlstrom1996;Schaffer1998).
Centralto ethnographic studies of the state is understanding the operations of power and knowledgethat shape
people's everydaylives. This concerted efforthas resultedin
an emergent literaturethat focuses on the impact of schooling on children'spolitical sociability (da Cunha 1995;Keyes
1991;Levinsonet al.1996;Marshall1993;Starrett1998).This
is understandablegiven the centralityof national education
systems in transmittingcore values that promote the basic
requisitesof citizenship;namely, childrenmust be disposed
to fight on behalf of the country,to obey the law, and to accept the social principlesunderlyingthe state. As the French
sociologist Pierre Bourdieu points out, "One of the major
powers of the state is to produce and impose (especially
through the school system) categories of thought that we
spontaneously apply to all things of the social worldincluding the state itself" (1999:53). The habitual routines, rituals,and discourses to which children are exposed
during their years of schooling are all designed to inscribe
them with a prereflectivebackgroundto civicaction.Schools,
therefore, are critical arenas for the cultural politics of a
society, and the curricula within them are intended to
mold the political behavior of schoolchildren, the future
adult citizens of a country.3 This political socialization is
not without tension, however. Mass education has fostered
a more critical, self-conscious public versed in alternative
systems of social relationsand able to articulatenew aspirations throughthe politicallanguageof rights(Eickelman1992;
Fahy 1998;Hirschkind2001;McGinnand Epstein 1999).
In fact, we cannot understand the story about Nuriye
without attendingto the crucialrole Turkishschools play in
disseminating the idea of a close Eltbetween modernityand
democracy. As Michel Foucault (1977, 1991) and Timothy
Mitchell (1991, 1998) point out (and as the story itself suggests), through the school system, the modern state generates an arrayof rationalitiesof governance that centers on
autonomy, self-control, and responsibilityamong citizens.4
A less salient but equally central point to Nuriye's dilemma
is how an idealized notion of democracy often assumes the
universalityof the male, Westernbourgeois subject.
Indeed, for the past two decades, feminist political
theorists (e.g., Butler 1992;Fraser1987;Young 1997),historians (e.g., Eley 1992;Hunt 1992;Outram 1987;Ryan 1992;
Scott 1996a),and sociolinguists (e.g., Cameron1997;Collins
1998;Gal 1991,1997,2002) have taken to taskthe presumed
linguistic and social impartialityof the liberalmodel of politics. Furthermore,they have elaborated three vital points:
first,that unspoken assumptions about gender and class are
embedded and reproducedin the politicalvocabularyof liberal democracies; second, that a linguistic unity coupled
with a singular (male bourgeois) "rational"communicative
style have prevented subordinate groups (economic or political minorities,for example) from effectivelyparticipating
in the public domain; and third,that this language ideology
and associated linguistic praxis together have shaped ways
people imagine, experience, and understandpolitical processes. Common to these intellectuallydiverse perspectives
is showing how the "universal"terms used to promote the
liberalbourgeois nation-state arerooted in a rationalistconception of the citizen-subject, the ego- and androcentric
person. And, as a result, this "brother"-hoodof socially responsible adults too often has excluded the plebian classes,
women, and children (Benhabib1987:85).5
At the heart of this feminist critiqueis how a public invariablyreconfigurespolitical rhetoricwithin contexts with
differenthistoricalpoliticaleconomies, genderregimes, and
language ideologies. Thus, to appreciate the role of democratic discourses in national education systems Turkish
schools in particular it is criticalto explorehow statesmen,
school officials,parents, and childrendirectthe terms of democracy to their own objects, that is, constitute a meaningful relationbetween their public and privateselves.
Thus, I take up LudwigWittgenstein's (1953)insightful
analysis of language games to explore, first, how the everyday uses of language articulate with social interaction, or
"formsof life" (Lebensform),and, second, how differentsocial visions and various forms of socialization together project indeterminate systems of signification in political discourses.fiOf pertinence to these two axioms is that people
"experience"the meaning of a word, that is, they constitute
their social and political identities in and through different
communicative styles. Thus, a key term like democracycannot be reduced to a singular, stable meaning; rather, it
evokes "a complicated network of similarities overlapping
and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similaritiesin detail'}tWittgenstein1953:para. 66). In
effect, Wittgensteindebunks the rationale of rational,neutral discourse considered emblematic of bourgeois civil society, namely, that the sole function of language is reference. He, in fact, emphasizes the ambiguous and contingent
framework("scaffold")underlyinglinguistic practices such
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* American Ethnologist
that new meanings "come into existence, and others become obsolete and get forgotten"(Wittgenstein1953:para.
23). That is, the production, circulation, and consumption
of political concepts take part in generating different perspectives within a society, none of which can be subjectedto
a simple cause-and-effect analysis. Also, citizens differentiallyunderstandand interpretpoliticalrepresentationsand
processes in narratingtheir life courses. Thus, invoking a
term like democracydoes not necessarily mean following it
either as a way of life or as a set of instructions.Nor is "democracy"a social practice that can be explained solely in
terms of rules. Rather, the application of rules rests with
practical knowledge and is itself an objectifying moment
within larger historical processes (Bourdieu 1977:1-30,
72-93). Members of a (linguistic) community differentially
inflect concepts preciselybecause of the liabilityand lability
of language and experience. Or, as the historian Joan Wallach Scott (1996b:397)notes, the discursive productions of
political reality are enmeshed in contradictorysocial processes that defy easy resolutions.
Accordingly,I understandthe production and dissemination of political terms as symbolicallymediated products
of communication that are differentiallyinflected according
to generation, gender, class, and historical consciousness.
Althoughit is true that both citizens and state leadersturn to
political terms to understand the circumstances in which
they act, I argue that idealized understandings of politics
and language cannot adequately describe how people as
historicaland social actors make sense of their political and
everyday lives. Rather, concepts like democracy must be
treated as floating signifiers to which speakers attribute
their own meaning and that speakers "translate"into a vernacularpraxisparticularto them.
Of course, however much political concepts shift and
blur meanings, they are not free-for-all signs. Politically
dominant groups working in conjunction with state agencies have the clout to linguisticallydetermine the parameters of collective identity for the entire citizenry, that is, to
implement authoritativemeanings of language and thereby
mold men and women in the images of canonized politics.7
At the same time, no political concept can delivercomplete
orderbecause both the language of politics and the politics
of language are deeply entrenched in contingent power relations at all levels of society.8
I thus aim to applyWittgenstein'sconcepts of language
to better understand how political signifiers (terms like democracy,freedom,rights,etc.) are constituted in and outside
of public schools, how they are made credible and authoritative, and how they are mediated in particularsocial contexts. Moreover, in understanding how differences and
unity are simultaneously established within a polity, I focus
on the ambiguous and indeterminate links between political discourse and social practicesand how these links arerefracted in everyday conversations. Drawing on fieldwork
conducted between 1989 and 1991 in the locality I call
"Yayla,"a small town of 5,000 in the Taurus Mountains of
southern Turkey,I begin by showing how the curriculumin
elementary and middle schools stresses a procedural understanding of democracy over a normative one.9 This is
particularlyevident in the national curriculum instituted
following the 1980 coup d'etat.At that time, the militaryestablishment directly intervened to constitute the political
culture of schoolchildren. Then I examine how schoolchildren and parents in Yaylainterpolatepersonal associations
that simultaneously legitimize, displace, and even transcend the more orderlypolitical argumentsdisseminated at
school. The older generation, I argue, perceives democracy
in terms of the patrimonial regime, the "father-state"that
provides materialfreedoms. Pupils, on the other hand, pick
up the lessons on individual freedom to discursivelychallenge authorityrelationsin their society. I conclude that democracy has become a master trope with which schooled
boys and girls can verbalizetheir individualaspirationsand
experiences. The terms of democracy for these youths have
become a "scaffold"(touse Wittgenstein'sterm)forexpressing
their desire for greaterindividual autonomy. Such a sociolinguistic analysis of a political signifier, which draws out
the relation between officiallyproscribed canons of representation, performancesof hierarchy,and differentgenerations' understandings about polity and society, can stimulate new directionsin the ethnographyof the state.
Textbookdemocracy:Normativeor procedural?
In Turkey,as elsewhere, schools play an important role in
socializing children in the desired signs of the civil state.
Turkisheducatorsespeciallyemphasize civics class because
they believe it is vital for molding politicalbehavior.In civics
class, standardcurricularpractices include readingtexts on
democracy, such as the one that Nuriye's younger sister
memorizedin the story"TheDagger."Thesetextspropagatea
positive evaluation of the Turks in world history, which
serves as a counterargumentto centuries-long criticism of
Turkish political culture (see Neumann and Welsh 1991).
They also assume hierarchies of differences that privilege
and legitimate the republicanregime of power. Firstamong
these hierarchies, democracy has been presented as the
quintessential sign of a state's modernity, and, by implication, that of its citizenry.Appositely, non-Westernpolitical
and culturaltraditionsare assumed to negate the principles
of democratic rule because they result from authoritarian
traditions, feudal social structure, or fanatic religious beliefs. Thus, ever since the Turkishnationalist educator Ziya
Gokalpasserted earlyin the 20th century that "animpartial
historian of the future will admit that democracy . . . originated with the Turks" (1959:303),official textbooks have
consistently described the Turkish republic as the ideal,
democratic polity. Moreover, Turkish education officials
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American Ethnologist
* Volume30 Number3 August2003
place greatfaith in the curriculumfor creatinga democratic
political tradition while discrediting despotism as incompatible with national identity. That is, they believe that instruction will persuasively induce schoolchildren the future electorate to adopt democratic principles and thus
activelyparticipatein the public sphere.l°
But how is the "democracy"defined in textbooks currently used in Turkey?Although textbooks give a great deal
of space to the rhetoric of normative democracy, schoolroom education places more emphasis on teaching citizens
the correct procedures and duties of democracy. At face
value, the curriculumfocuses on norrnsusually associated
with the liberal, bourgeois public sphere-freedom of expression and tolerance of differences.Thus, passages from
civics textbooks make frequent reference to the prerepublican sultans' abuse of their authority,in particular,their draconian censorship of ideas.l1But in practice,the school system emphasizes procedural definitions of a democratic
political system over normative ones. In their civics textbook, third graders,for example, are taught in the text "Democracy"that majoritarianpolitics is the most legitimate
mode of organizing political power.l2 This distinction between personal, arbitraryrule and numerical democracy is
recursivelyreplicatedin class elections. At the beginning of
the school year, from second grade on, pupils elect senior
and junior class officers-president, head of the cleanup
committee, head of the librarycommittee, and so on. The
same third-gradecivics textbookthus states that
everybodywho lives in a society has workand responsibilities to carryout. One of these is the duty to manage
and supervise.Pupils must participatein managing the
classroom and school. They must take responsibilities
for class presidencyand duties. The class presidentrepresents the class.A person responsiblefor a task (library;
cleaning) is the representative for that branch.... A
regime that provides elected offlcers is known as a democracy.
Those who want to be class president put themselves
up as candidates. Everypupil votes for a candidate she
or he sees fit. Everybodyparticipates by voting. The
candidatewith the most votes becomes class president.
Those who voted for or againstthe class president heed
his words. Thus, everybodyrespects the decision taken
by the majorityof the class and abides by it.
In a democracy everybody respects one another's
opinions. [Ilkokul Hayat Bilgisi 3 1991:23]
In the above text, both class officerand government official
are designated by the same term, yonetici. Here, language
and political relations converge in naturalizingas "democratic" the underlying hierarchy inside and outside the
classroom. This linguistic articulationof political behavior
not only iconicallyindexes the union of school and state but
also renders both arenas politically equivalent moral communities and thus erases any differences there may be in
their respective social makeup and practices.l3Implicit in
this "languagegame"is a hierarchicalrankingof differences
in mentality and political culture that dismisses the prerepublican regime and justifies a desired modernity commonly associated with the "democracy"in contemporary
Despite the educational system's best effortsto impose
its notions of proceduraldemocracy,there is a glitch. Not all
citizens accept the system's definition, a stance that can
draw a sharp reaction from the state. Other citizens jumble
the politicalcategoriesto fit their specific understandingsof
modernity,social identities, politicalregime, and way of life.
Should the state consider certain individuals or interest
groups to have transgressedwhat it understands to be the
procedural bases of democracy, then in its capacity as
guardianof the public orderit will intervene.So far,only the
militaryhas taken up this role.
The generals' democracy
The quote with which I began this article is not without
irony.The short story "TheDagger"was written in the wake
of the 1980 militarycoup. On September 12, 1980,the commander-in-chiefof the Turkisharmed forces, KenanEvren,
and his colleagues overthrewthe civiliangovernment.Casting themselves as apolitical "guardians"of the nation and
the legitimate ideological successors of Mustafa Kemal
Ataturk(the firstpresident of Turkey),the juntajustified the
coup by claimingthat the civilianpoliticianswere unable to
govern the country and effectivelydeal with the breakdown
of law and order.l4Even worse, the junta argued, was that
the educated youth had become disdainfulof authorityand
reproducedparliamentarydisorderon universitycampuses
and in secondaryschools.
Centralto the generals' rhetoric was the notion that a
stable democratic regime had to be restored.The armyhad
intervened before, but this time the generals made sure to
position themselves as the chief culturalbrokersof the national polity. To depoliticize public opinion, the generals
carried their conception of political education into the
school system. Thus, before returningpower to civilianpoliticians two years later, the military tightened the institutional links between the armedforces and the national education system, including stricter control of personnel,
children,and curriculum.l5
At the core of the new curriculum was emphasis on
both discipline and total allegiance to the state. That is to
say, the new curriculumsought to prevent at all costs the
consolidation of identities that threatened to fragment the
nation into a politics of differences whether rooted in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or religion. To bolster this
prohibition, the generals defined which communities of
interest were allowed to work out their differences in the
political arena. Setting up the terms for participation in
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Nuriye'sdilemma* American Ethnologist
andexclusion fromthe politicalarenameant firstof all redefining the social parametersof democracy.
In the imagined democracy of the generals, there was
no room for leftist groups. In fact, the militaryheld "communists"responsible for the political violence that plagued
the country throughout the 1970s, that is, for weakening
Turkish society by undermining its democratic norms. A
year and a half after the coup, the defense secretary attached to the Ministryof Education states in his report on
public institutions and national unity that "thereis a point
of utmost importance: communism labels ... all democratic views within a democracy as 'fascistic'" (Tebligler
Dergisi 1982a:68).The report suggests that the communists
were themselves antidemocratic, threatening to impose a
totalitarian regime with its "dictatorial ideology" (dikta
ideolojisi).l6 Here, communism is more than just another
antidemocraticmovement; it is a threat to the established
social order.l7The secretary does not stop with the social
and economic platform of the communists. He accuses
them of accentuating identity differences among the people; as he states, communists are "agents provocateurs"
who foment conflicts among the differentMuslim sects and
between the "so-calledKurdishcitizens"and the rest of the
population (TebliglerDergisi 1982a:68).18
My aim here is not to question the historicity of these
assertions.Rather,I drawattention to how the militaryadvisor invokes the rhetoricof democracyto create mutuallyexclusive political categories and, thus, delineate clear, punishable categories of people. In orientingthe school system
to those political (and linguistic) distinctions the army supports, the advisor delegitimates and silences any interest
group that advocates alternative collective identities and
thereby justifies their exclusion from participating in the
generals' public sphere.l9 The military,moreover, repudiates those who espouse political directions that considerably divergefrom its version of Turkishdemocracy.And pupils are not excluded from these dictates.
Followingthe 1980coup, the militaryappointed its own
minister of education, Hasan Saglam.As with his predecessors in the ministry,Saglamexplicitlyconnected democracy
with continuous vigilance of schoolchildren's extracurricular activities,including politics. For example, in his keynote
speech to open the school year in 1981,he exhortedparents
"toclosely follow your children,to protect them from harmful habits and to keep them away from activities that have
no relationto their studies"(TebliglerDergisi 1981b:310).To
the minister, the means and meanings of democracy are
first and foremost the existence of law-abidingcitizens and
the inviolabilityof the state. Moralsand discipline take priorityand should repress any behaviorthat can be construed
as "divisive."These objectives tapped into the ideological
platformof the subsequent civilian governments led by the
right-of-centerMotherlandPartyand TruePath Party.
Thus, both the militaryand state officialsconsider their
task to consist of turning children into law-abidingcitizens.
To this end, parents, teachers, and officialsare mobilized to
manage, supervise, and control children. Thus, the family
unit, the school, and the state are all depicted in the curriculum as constituted by the same rules, regulations, order,
and, above all, obedience. In constituting this obedient citizenry, the curriculumpositions parents as surrogatepedagogues. School primersoften belie a naive realism in which
"textual"fathersand mothers are endowed with an authoritative voice to impart those civic norms state educators endorse.20Fifth-gradechildren,for example, become silent interlocutors to the moral citizen-father in the story "The
Constitutionand the Duties of Citizens."
The childAyselwas thinkingabout the policeman taking
away a man in handcuffs. His father said, "Myson, we
all live in a large society. Above all there has to be order
in society. Lawsand some social regulationsconstitute
social order.All of us must abide by the laws and social
regulations and uphold them. This is the most important duty of a citizen. The State apprehends and punishes those people who do not carryout this duty.When
citizens cooperate with the state all of us are happy."
Parents are expected to fully cooperate with the state and
prevent their childrenfrom runningafoul of the authorities.
Should pupils, however, refuse to listen to their parents
or to cooperate with teachers, or should they persist in expressingideas that divergeconsiderablyfrom the intentions
of the curriculum, they are assumed to pose a danger to
state and society. Less than a year after the 1980 coup, the
ministry published a detailed list of offenses, rangingfrom
disrespect of persons of authority to politically objectionable activities. Until recently, punishment has ranged from
temporary withdrawal to permanent ban from the school
system (TebliglerDergisi1981a:233-234).2l
Moreover, schoolchildren learn what offenders of law
and order can expect from state authorities.Although the
rhetoricof officialsusuallysuggests that there is no inherent
conflict between compliance with the law and democratic
values, in practicethe law takes precedence over freedom of
speech. Thus, in their religion primer,seventh gradersread
that "lawsare . . . for preventingconfusion. We must always
abide by them. When we don't, we will be punished" (Tunc
1987:68).This lesson is betterlearned earlythan late in one's
education. A first-year student at the Hasanoglan Ataturk
Teachers College was caught reading the political scientist
Server Tanilli's What Kind of Democracy Do We Want?
(1988) during his literature class. The school disciplinary
board first suspended him for five days. In their official report, the board members singled out the book as "praising
atheism, making communist propaganda and accusing . . .
the [junta]leaders . . . of fascism" (CumhurEyet1989b:11).
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American Ethnologist
g Volume30
Number3 August2003
The school board then sent the student's case to the state
prosecutor and asked for six months of imprisonment. The
court finallyacquitted the student. No school, however,was
willing to admit him afterward.
Resonances:Indifferent father, cruel
stepmother, unwanted children
Many townspeople of Yayla welcomed the military intervention in 1980.To them, only the armycould restore order
in an otherwise chaotic political situation.Duringthe 1970s,
often called the "yearsof anarchy,"politicians had failed to
contain civil disorderand provide social and economic justice. A town guard,whom I will call Ramazan,illustratedthe
political impasse with a story about a traffic accident:
"Whentwo taxi driversbegin to fight, they expect a person
of authority to intervene so that they can go on with their
business. When nobody intervenes, don't they say, 'Isn't
there any man here?' (Burada erkek yok mu)." In other
words, the civilianpoliticianshad abandoned their dependent constituencies; they had not lived up to their "manly"
duties. Framing polity and governance in gender terms is
not peculiar to Ramazan.Whenever one reads about Turkish statesmen in the press, whenever one listens to townspeople and villagers comment on domestic politics, very
often one comes across the concept of the devlet baba,literally, the "father-state."The state as fatherfigure is a master
trope of power to which many Turkish citizens appeal in
making sense of their relationship to the state and government representatives.The Turkish"father-state"conforms
to Weber'snotionof patrimonialregimes(e.g.,the Landsvater),
which legitimate "the authoritarianrelationship of father
and children" (Weber 1968:1107).22
All figures of authority
are construed as patriarchal figures who must provide
physical and material support to a vulnerable (feminized)
nation (Sirrnan1990).In the town guard'sallegory,the lack
of effective political leadership implied the emasculation of
the state and, by association, that of the democraticregime.
And the generals,I suggest here, tapped into this paternalist
understanding of power-holders as custodians of the people's welfare to legitimate their intervention.Townspeople
of Yaylathus often understood the militaryinterventionnot
only as institutingstabilityand orderbut, more importantly,
also as restoring the moral bonds linking citizens with the
state. In fact, many male adult heads of household willingly
situate themselves as dependent on the state for support.
This concept of "father-state"remains a centralfeature
in the official politics of national culture and finds expression in the curriculum.Thus, children learn that the prerepublican sultan had failedto live up to his "fatherly"responsibilities. During the two weeks that schoolchildren study
the foundation of the republic and its founderAtaturk,they
are taught why the currentrepublican regime replaced the
former Ottoman sultanate. The sultan's cowardice, selfish-
ness, and pursuit of pleasure (all understood as nonmasculine traits) kept the country backward,oppressed, and exploited by foreign powers. These negative traits serve to legitimate the abolition of the sultanate. Furthermore,the
curriculum projects a keen sense of the sultans' having
abandoned the Turkish people, and this visceral point is
emphasized throughout grade school. Second graders,for
example, readthat
before the Republic . . . there were no roads, schools,
factories and ports in our country. Our commerce was
in the handsof foreigners.Weboughtallof ourneeds from
abroad. All our money went outside the country, too.
As a result our people were poor and unprotected . . .
The nation was without a head, the countrywas without
a protector (millet baSslz, yurt sahipsiz). [Karayigitand
National salvation,accordingto this officialhistoricalnarrative, only began when MustafaKemal(Ataturk)led the Turkish people to victory in the War of Liberation, following
WorldWarI. Thus, from first grade onward, all schoolchildren are taught to be gratefulto this illustriousleader, who
not only expelled the foreign armies that had invaded the
countryafterWorldWarI but also began the modernization
of their country.Since his death in 1938,he has become the
eternal "forefatherof the Turkishpeople" (Ataturk)who had
been lackingunder the last Ottomansultans.23Exemplifying
this deep-felt respect for Ataturkare the first two verses of
the poem "MyForefather"(Atam), which first gradersread
out loud: "The Turkish nation with my Forefather/Saved
this nation"(Ilkokul Turkfe Ders Kitabl 1 1989:104).
It is with this patriarchal rhetoric of leadership that
both civilian politicians and the military command have
often justified "heavy-handed"governments. Such an understandingof the link between leadership and state resonates with the dominantpatriarchaldiscourseof the Turkish
household. And, residents of Yaylafrequently emphasized
the paramountimportanceof male leadershipin the household. To them, the greatesttragedythat can befall a familyis
to be left "withouta [household]head" (baSslz);widows and
their children are then said to be "withouta protector"(sahipsiz). The lack of a household head places the family
members in a precarious,dependent state.
This uncertainty about the viable reproduction of the
household has become a constant concern for people eking
out a living in Turkey,where irregularmenial work,high unemployment, and hyperflation since the 1970s have adversely affected the power of the paterfamilias.The short
storywith which I began this articleoffersan example of this
anxiety. Throughher sexualized body, the daughterNuriye
finances the new home forher parents and therebydemotes
her fatherto the status of a dependent. Both the reversalof
economic roles and the inversion of gendered norms of behavior shame the father into silence albeit a silence that
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* American Ethnologist
can erupt into violence against his daughter. After all, in
commoditizing her sexuality, Nuriye not only transgresses
the social codes of female modesty but also makes salient
her father'sfinancial dependence on his child. In short, her
actions call into question his masculinity.
The moral predicament of the male breadwinner, although not as dramaticas in the short story, is an everJvday
concern in Turkey.For about a century, ruralcommunities
likeYaylahave undergonewide-rangingeconomic changes,
often implemented under the sign of strong male leadership. As in many other countries in the Mediterraneanregion, Turkeylacked a prominent commercial, let alone industrial, middle class at the beginning of the 20th century
(Keyder 1987). Since then, the Turkish state has orchestrated a "revolutionfrom above" namely, the transformation of an agrarianbureaucraticsociety into a capitalistone,
the formation of middle classes whose structuralposition
and loyalty were to be firmlytied to state projects, and the
materialimprovementof the countryside (Moore1966:433452). Commercializationhas undermined the old basis of
the household economy and forced adults to reorient their
productiveactivitytowarda commodity market.The townspeople of Yaylaare only too awarethat they have lost effective control over the means of production and cannot cope
with the costly upkeep of a family in a consumer-oriented
economy. Today, earning a viable living is difficult,as is securingtheir children'sfuturelivelihood.
Onlya generationago, most of the townspeople herded
goats and sheep or raised camels; others cut wood and
worked as wage farrnhands.Today many families want
more secure jobs for their children,which has altered their
understandingof the state's responsibilitiesand education.
Schooling is now perceived as the means for securing longterm employment, such as clericalpositions in government
or jobs in large factories. Parents thus want to ensure a
steady income with social benefits for their children, or
what they call a "lifeguarantee"(hayat garantisi). The desiredjobs requireeither a high school diploma or vocational
training,neither of which is availablein the small town. Parents thus increasingly invest in their children's education
and send them to schools in largercities. In turn, sons (and
often daughters)are expected to supporttheir parentsin old
age. To gain this security,adult members of the community
expect much from their state leaders. Indeed, they regard
the entire political apparatus as the framework within
which economic and social rights are to be obtained. In return for fulElllingtheir "civic"duties and obligations,including payment of taxes and militaryservice, parents demand
that the state providesecurityfor its subjects namely, "life,
dignity,honor, and property"(can,l rz, namus ve mulkEyet).
To many townspeople, the means to this security is education.
The promise of a better future through public education has not been kept, however. The lack of equipment and
qualifiedteachers in the local primaryschools inadequately
preparesthe townspeople's children for the more demanding high schools in the cities. Onlya handfulof childrenever
attend university, let alone graduate. Nor do high school
and university diplomas necessarily help secure employment. A common complaint among the townspeople is that
the "schoolsproduce youth with diplomaswithout a job or a
profession." Even competition for menial factory jobs is
stiff.At the time of my fieldwork,youth unemployment was
estimated to be between twenty and thirtypercent. Understandably, townspeople are apprehensive about the future
viability of their households. They are keenly aware of the
relationship between the quality of education and the income of households. Students at magnet or privateschools,
for example, usually come from wealthier homes and are
more likely than those in ruralschools to enroll in prestigious university programs and obtain lucrativejobs. Pupils
attending rural schools, thus, are at a clear disadvantage
both duringtheir schooling and later on in the job market.
Yet it would be wrong to assume that the adult townspeople of Yayla either adopt a fatalist attitude to life or
scheme to overthrowthe social and economic order.Rather,
they take up the patriarchalmotif of the "father-state"to
criticize the current disparities in education and income.
Just as the curriculumdescribes the subjects of the late Ottoman Empire as unprotected and vulnerable children,
townspeople emphasize the lack of paternalcare on the part
of republican statesmen. In their "language game," the
"democratic"state no longer acts as the compassionate father figurewho addressesthe economic and educationalinequities in the country.On the contrary,townspeople speak
about how the country's political leadership has spurned
them, treatingthem as unwanted "stepchildren."They refer
to themselves as "orphans"abandoned to their own wiles.
This perception of an indifferentstate stems, I believe,
from popular notions of kinship and the symbolic language
of patriarchy(Delaney 1991).24InYayla,as in manycommunities in the circum-Mediterraneanregion, many older
townspeople hold to a monogenetic theory of procreation,
specifically, that men engender both males and females.
That is to say, the male "seed"alone determines the progeny's physical and moral attributes.Women, on the other
hand, are likened to an agriculturalfield. This theory of procreation is best summed up by Nermin Erdentug,who conducted fieldworkin eastern Turkeyin the 1950s: "Women
are a field, a soil in which the male seed develops" (1954:69).
More importantlyfor my argumenthere, the degree of kinship between siblings affects the children's share in patrilineal rights.Childrenhaving the same fatherbut born from
different mothers are considered full siblings (oz kardes);
they then equally share the family'spatrimony.25In theory,
the stepsibling (uvey kardes)born of a differentfather cannot inheritfrom the household. It is with this patrilinealunderstanding of inheritance that Arif, a truck driverthen in
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American Ethnologist
* Volume30 Number3 August2003
his forties, complained about the meager allocation of resources in the local schools at Yayla.
I look at the situation of the big cities, and I look at ours
here. I saythis much differencein [thequalityofl education cannot be so. A fatherwould not even make such a
distinctionbetween his real child and his step-child....
The governmentdoes not act at all as a father.... They,
the politicians, only come at election time; between
elections they don't take care of us; they don't give us
our due [bize bakmaz bize hak vermezl
The truckdriversuggested that city dwellersenjoy the status
of "realsiblings"precisely because, unlike the ruralinhabitants, they receive state munificence. Here the state is deEmedas a male genitor, its citizens as infantilized dependents competing for patrimoniallargesse.
Framingthis competition over resources in education
is not limited to the distinction between real and stepsiblings. The use of the syrnboliclanguageof monogenetic procreation extends to the unfavorabletreatment children are
expected to receive fromtheir stepmother. Should a man remarry,the new wife is assumed to look afterthe interests of
her own children, to the point of mistreatingthe firstwife's
children.An irresponsiblefather is one who allows his children to sufferwhat is popularlyknown as "treatmenttypical
of a stepmother"(uveyanalskmualemesi).Such an interpretation of the relations between a woman and her stepchildren is often inflected in discussions on the inadequateeducation that children receive. Illustrative of this type of
argument is the complaint about the local school system
that Ahmed, a shepherd in his late forties,made:
Whatkind of democracy is this?Aren'twe also children
of this country?Yet we don't receive anything from the
state.... Why don't they send us enough teachers to
educate our children?The father-statedoes not act like
a compassionate father should. It treats us as a stepmother would.
For Ahmed, democracy entails a personalized contract of
rights and duties between households and the nation's political leaders. It does not imply an impersonal government
grounded in an individualisticconception of society. What
makes the democratic political regime the most egalitarian
mode of organizing political power to this shepherd is his
faith in the state's abilityto provide physical and economic
security to all households, including his own. Should the
citizen feel that he has not reaped the benefits expected of
the state, he will accuse its representativesof having abandoned him. Or, as an unemployed farmhandput it, "an orphan cuts his own navel-string."
Dissonances: Law and order or indieridual
freedoms, whither?
Whatever their misgivings about the educational system
and its democraticregime may be, parents generallyuphold
the rule of the law. So does the school system. Democratic
practices such as freedom of press and speech must comply
with state laws. Recall the second sentence Nuriye's
younger sister memorized: "Freedommeans that individuals can do anything they want to do, provided that they
don't harm anybodyor do anythingagainstthe law."In fact,
all textbookpassages qualifydemocracyby insertingrules of
Lessons on democracyare more than statements about
past and present political systems or, for that matter, class
elections. Ideally,they are the means bywhich childrenwillingly consent to (and adopt as their own) rules and regulations. Or, as the program of social studies for fourth- and
fifth-gradepupils states, "Pupilsmust acquire feelings and
habits that comply with the laws and state authority"(TebliglerDergisi 1990b:458).To ensure such compliance, the
school system subjects children to a comprehensive social
etiquette that emphasizes self-control, active obedience,
and, above all, conformityto routines and rules.
Conversely,personal initiativeand independent behavior are not tolerated.At the very bottom of the social hierarchy, schoolchildren are expected to model themselves on
their elders, whom they must respect and obey.26Should a
child exhibit a too-cavalier attitude toward figures of
authority such as a teacher she is scolded for her total
disregardfor the moral ties binding her to peers and superiors.To question such authorityis even worse for her;then,
she is accused not only of disturbing the hierarchicalrelations between school personnel and pupils but also of questioning the collectivistrationalethat is promoted by Turkish
state and society, and, thus, disruptingthe social order.No
pupil should try to propagate differences at the expense of
the collective will, however it may be defined. As a sixthgrade reader states, "Mutualsupport is 'everybodyfor everybody' not 'everybodyfor himself'; this is both social, national and, in the widest sense, humane thought"(Birkanet
al. 1987:144).To think otherwise means that one is selfish,
and this kind of behaviorborderson the treasonous.
Ironically,the very terms through which the national
education system tries to fashion a homogeneous collectivity have become the means for negatively evaluating the
prevalent authorityrelations in the society at large. To wit,
passages that deplore the lack of freedom of press in the prerepublican regime bring to pupils' minds the want of expression in today's classrooms.WhatI am suggestinghere is
that when schoolchildren articulate aspirations for greater
democratic practices in the society at large, they displace,
decenter, and ultimately implode the political vocabulary
they learn at school. In the process, the pupils insert their
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Nuriye'sdilemma* American Ethnologist
privateselves in the public discourse of rights and self-government and thus reconceptualizetheir political selves.
Below I present two cases to show how the curriculum
has unwittingly provided the "scaffolding"with which
schoolchildren reflect on and react to the discrepancy between the linguistic representations of democracy and the
lack of democratic practices. This discrepancy emerged in
the essays and in-class comments I elicited from schoolchildren while I taught at Yayla.The children'soral and written
expressions,however fragmentedin terms of coherence and
consistency, constitute synecdoches for political and social
consciousness. My first example elucidates how a male
youth establishes discursive autonomy vis-a-vis state institutions by appropriatingevolutionary discourse to indict
"undemocratic"teaching methods. My second example
deals with how a female teenager adopts a "modernist"
stance to question the gendered premises of school and society. Both cases evince the inherent tensions between a
highly publicized discourse of equality and authoritarian
power relations. They also reveal how terms emblematic of
the liberal bourgeois public sphere become signposts by
which these youths narratemore emancipatinglife courses
and life strategies.
One means used to instill respect for authority in the
classroom is physical discipline. And despite a ministerial
directivethat considers such discipline contraryto the "scientiElcand modern" pedagogical methods of democratic
countries, physical punishment is prevalent in the Turkish
Textbookssomeclassroom (Tebligler Dergisi 1990a:554).27
times acknowledge the violence that children sometimes
bear from their parents after submitting a poor report card,
but nowhere do they suggest that teachers themselves hit
pupils. Yetchildrenare awareof the contradictionsbetween
the rhetoricof enlightened education and their experiences
of schooling. The textualaccounts taught in class have given
the pupils the means to criticize ongoing pedagogical practices.
Today children compose their (national) identities
through the ideological prism of incremental progress and
have come to associate physicalpunishment with the devalued prerepublican school system. To wit, in an essay on
"Modernand CulturedPeople," one of my middle-school
students, Burak,wrote that "in the past backward hodjas
[religiousteachers] . . . taught children . . . And for every error the children made, the hodjas would badly beat them
with the rod.We now readmany stories about the education
in those times."
These "stories"have become part of the school lore
from which children draw their collective memory. They
also implicitly indict present abusers of authority as living
signs of the "backward"and despotic past. Abusersmay include the pupils' current teachers, whom students (privately) accuse of not living up to the democratic norms of
the state. This was first brought to my attention in an essay
Bayram, then 12 years old, wrote about his education.23
Awarded a scholarship for needy, bright children, Bayram
was attending a prestigious magnet school, where much of
the teaching staff comes from Germany. In the essay, he
drew out the differences in pedagogical approaches between the Turkishinstructorsand their Germancolleagues.
Whata shame that . . . some teachersthinkthat they can
educate by hitting the students.... In my school there
are German teachers. Not one of these teachers even
slaps a student. Becausehittinghas definitelybeen abolished in these teachers'country.And a teacherwho hits
a pupil [there]even has to go to court.This is the case for
almost all Westerncountries . . . I have dwelled on this
topic [hitting]because it is widespread in Turkeyand
negatively affects students. The main negative influences are truancy, lack of interest in the lesson and
dislike of teachers.
Impressedwith how well he articulatedhis frustrationwith
the currentpedagogical practices,I later asked Bayramhow
he coped with the simultaneously differentteaching methods. He associated the German and Turkishteachers with
two incommensurable mentalities (zihnEyet),separated
from each other by an unbridgeablechronologicalgap. Until the Turkishteachers caught up with their German colleagues, Bayramwould learn to maneuverbetween what he
called "democratic"and"despotic" systems. Democracy
here is, as it were, an "after-the-fact"appeal to reconsider
the pedagogical practices and a prompt to reconfigurethe
hierarchicalrelationsat school. It is but one of many discursive means with which Bayram expressed personal angst
and reformist longings in short, a poignant renvoi of
school-based discourses that reafElrmsa narrativeof emancipation, all the while challengingteachers'violence.29
Despite their criticisms of physical discipline, schoolchildren continue to suffercorporalpunishment, which remains a prerogativeof adult authorityfigures.But my point
is not about the incongruitybetween pedagogical ideas and
practices in the classroom. Rather,I have sought to elucidate how a perceptive youth like Bayramis capable of engaging with norms associated with democracy to criticize
the prevalentviolence at school. This is possible because of
the structuralcontradiction inherent in the Turkishschool
system: Pupils are simultaneously represented as the temporal culmination of the national narrativeand repeatedly
reconstituted as the unfulfilled ideals of the valorized future.30Simultaneously taught "who we ideally are" and
"whatwe ought to be,"boys and girlsdeflectthis dilemma to
their superiors,in the case of Bayram,to his Turkishteachers. Thus, he is able to reconfigure and inflect the political
terms of progress to challenge the undemocratic "modernity"of some of his teachers and, by implication,that of the
school system and its state sponsors.
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American Ethnologist
* Volume30 Number3 August 2003
If male youths like Bayramdiscursivelydisplace the political language of schools to personallychallenge hierarchical relations at school, females cannot escape the social
stricturesimposed on their gender, whether as schoolchildren or adults. It is no wonder that many adolescent girls
consider personal initiative and mobility desirable social
practices. This is the case of 14-year-oldGul, who was finishing her last year at the local middle school in Yaylawhen I
met her.
The educational system undoubtedly promotes greater
participation for women in the public sphere. Yet it also
does not shy awayfrom discipliningboth the minds and the
bodies of girls. Female pupils are expected to dress in as
asexual a manner as possible, and, because loose hair connotes promiscuous sexuality, the school staff makes sure
that girlsbraid or tie up their hair (see Delaney 1994).Those
who fail to comply with this regulation cannot enter the
school grounds. In an essay on her education, Gul saw this
ruling as instantiating how "primitive"the Turkisheducational system is as opposed to European "democratic"systems she had seen featuredon television (see Note 29).
Her statement should not be taken as an all-out attack
on the school system. Gul aspiredto attend a high school in
one of the major cities of the region. She is well aware that
she enjoys greater opportunities, including coeducation,
than women from her mother's generation. Moreover,the
curriculumhas, if anything,expanded women's horizons in
terms of mobility and their expectations of their society. A1most all girls at Yayla attend one of the local elementary
schools; a few have even graduated from universities.
Rather,Gul's comments betrayed apprehension about the
future.Gul'sparentsand immediate kinwere hesitant about
sending her unchaperoned to an urban school. Throughthe
school discourse on democraticpractices,she tackledheadon the collective prejudicesof her immediate community.
Where's the democracy? . . . We [females] suffer from
prejudices. Just think about it. A woman has no say in
front of men; she can't meddle in men's business. They
think we live in a totally different society. They are always thinking whether we have soiled our honor....
Think about it, why can't a girl go out at night alone?
Most boys I know thinkwe're just a piece of hymen (bir
zar parfass)....
A country can't develop with this kind
of thinking. A woman must be economically independent. But how does our society react?While a man
can do whatever he wants, all the burden and guilt is
dumped on us women.... I too want to be a modern
Gul's frustration with changing social practices says as
much about the excitement of the egalitarianimplications
of democracy as about her own exclusion from full participation in her society. It also bespeaks her desire to partake
in new gender ideals greatergeographicand social mobil-
ity-which she and other local girls associate with modernity. To these young women, the "veil"and other bodily
strictures impede sexual parity.3lSpeaking out against the
school dress code is the means by which Gul contests the
freedom of movement that her male compatriotshave been
grantedat birth.32
Her narrative,however truncated, allows her to organize and make sense of her experiences.The link between restrictivedress codes (e.g., bound hair)at school and the limited mobilityof women in publiclyascribedplaces is evident
to self-conscious teenagers like Gul:The political and social
construction of masculinityis predicated on assuming that
women are naturallysexual beings whom men must control. It is this "naturalness"of the structuringof sexual differences, this gendering of her body and that of the public
and privatespheres that Gul begrudges.33Tied to a patriarchal subordinationthat is upheld in the family and society
at large, she resents being excluded from participation in
male-defined social realms and confined to the cloistered
perimetersof the home. Not surprisingly,the lessons on democracy appeal to young women who not only demand the
right to speak up and move about freely but, more importantly, also challenge patriarchalattitudes that perpetuate
inequalities between men and women.34In effect, they undermine the links between maleness and the public sphere,
between femaleness and the privatedomestic sphere.As the
feminist scholar CarolePateman would argue, Gulwants to
"create a properly democratic society, which includes
women as full citizens"(1988:123).
For both Gul and Bayram, democracy is inseparable
from individualism, that "drivetoward self-actualization"
that has typically been associated with liberal bourgeois
subjectivity(Giddens 1990:124).Neither one belongs to the
Turkishmiddle class, yet their respective criticismsof pedagogical practices strongly suggest that they both tap into a
progressivehistorythat supports their claims to more egalitariansocial relationsand greaterindividualfreedoms.
Interpretationsof the world,as SallyFalkMoore has argued,
are inherently "contradictory. . . and at the level of action
there is evidence of simultaneous conformityand resistance
to authority-claims"(1987:735). How these tensions and
contradictions structure everyday social relations, on the
one hand, and political imaginary,on the other, has been
the major problematic of this article. Specifically,I focused
on how differentsocial actors-state educators,the military,
adult and young townspeople invest the political term
democracywith phantasmic meaning (Zizek 1989). In this
respect, Wittgenstein'stheoretical insights on language are
particularlyhelpful in fathoming the relation between systems of signification and political socialization. The term
democracyinvokes multiple crosscutting and overlapping
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dilemma * American Ethnologist
meanings preciselybecause persons within a society arepositioned differentlyin terms of life history, gender, age, socioeconomics, locality, and consciousness and thus "fill"
this term with their personal associations. It is this discursive indeterminacythat articulatesthe contested nature of a
political signifieras well as fuels differentrepertoiresof desire, action, and purpose.
Thus, in this article,I have tracedthe organizingprinciples by which various members of a national polity engage
in imperfectly repetitive usages of the signifier democracy.
Specifically,I looked at how the Turkisheducationalsystem
discursively fashions a "democratic"polity of law-abiding
citizens and how parents and childrenfrom a Turkishcommunity understandparticipationin such a political regime.
I first explored the canons of political representation that
schoolchildren work within and against that is, how the
national curriculumselectively defines democracy and interprets the rights and duties of citizens. I then examined
what tensions and contradictions exist between ideologies
of political legitimacy and behavior and their many social
contexts inside and outside the school system. Finally,I describedhow men and women, young and old, inserttheirintimate selves in the public discourse of individuated rights
and, in the process, reconceptualize their political selves as
they reinterpretthe terms of democracy. The variety of social visions can be understood as strategic attempts at reimaginingpower and its representationsin everydaylife.
In all nations, there is a give and take between citizens
and the state. Citizens sacrifice parts of their private selves
to the state. Many part with some of their income in the
form of taxes; others, their bodies in time of war; and still
others give birthto and nurturethese bodies. Forgingsuch a
consensual understandingof state and society has been institutionalizedin the modern era. In Turkey,where there is a
strong state tradition, the national school system has set
about educating the general population in "democratic"
citizenship and thus actively imposes specific interpretations on key social issues that are widely perceived as defining national experience for children. This systematic intervention into children's subjectivities is primarilykeyed to
foster allegiance to the nation and obedience to state institutions and officials.
Citizens also demand rights.Indeed, the representative
signs of political language that the school system disseminates not only coerce the public into political docility but
also spur novel forms of action. That is to say, the very
modes of representation the state uses to consolidate an
obedient citizenry have become forms of knowledge individuals use to asserta varietyof claims.By encoding theirinterests in the language of individualrights and self-government, the townspeople of Yayla assert agency within the
context of a political discourse they did not create (see
From the perspective of those statesmen and military
leaderswho associate democracywith a patrimonialregime
(the "father-state"),the citizen must fuse as much as possible his or her privateself to the politicalorder.Individualinitiative is considered selfish individualismand lack of interest in the nation. This perspective taps into an older
generation'spaternalisticunderstandingof the relationbetween the state and citizenry;that older generation personalizes government as a benevolent and generous fatherwho
helps citizens accede to greatersocial and economic mobility. For members of that generation, obligations that guarantee the future of the household take precedence over individual freedoms, and democracy is synonymous with
securing material freedoms, including better educational
opportunities that facilitate their children's entry into the
labor force. If need be, the older generation will support
state officials abrogatingindividual rights and resorting to
censorship and violence.
Not all citizens of Turkeyshare in this corporatistunderstanding of freedom; some imagine more egalitarian
forms of political governance. For years, writers like the
feminist author Is1lOzgenturkhave arguedfor greaterindividualism and freedom of expression and mobility, the very
capstones of liberal democracy. Intellectuals are not the
only ones to demand more individualrights.Mass schooling
has had the unintended effect of makingindividualrights a
desired end in itself. Throughthe curriculumand pedagogy,
political discourses have become a part of the educated
youth's social consciousness. The written and oral expressions I elicited from the schoolchildren reveal more than
their relativesocial and physicalvulnerability;they drawout
the existential dilemma between expectations of equality
and the social conventions that discriminate against age
and gender. Exposureto the rhetoricof democracy induces
evaluativejudgment of one's society, which in turn makes
possible comparative assessments of different ways of
thinkingabout one's life in terms of both immediate and potentiallyvery differentsocial practices.
The philosopher Jean-FrancoisLyotard(1989:102)has
long touted the demise of all emancipatory narratives,including modern democracy. Yet to those who feel socially
and politically marginalized-women, children, ethnic minorities,religious-mindedmodernists,and staunch secularists-the lessons on individual freedom are the very channels for articulatingand resolving their grievances. For this
public, concepts like "citizenship,""egalitarianism,"and
"democracy"are phantasmic,discursivemeans to reflecton
power and social relations, and, thus, they become the very
linguistic elements that bring about changes in people's
day-to-daylives, which develop more open public spheres.
Thus, this "languagegame" evinces the close links between language, action, and power relations.This is clearly
the case in contemporaryTurkey,where divergent uses of
the term democracyappear in how state agents understand
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American Ethnologist
* Volume30 Number3 August2003
education, how older citizens conceive of the task of government, and how young men and women describe their limited opportunities.In fact, multiple meanings of democracy
oscillate between local ideas about the contract between
rulers and ruled and a more global concept of the universal
rights-bearingsubject. This oscillation occurs as men and
women, young and old, the schooled and the unletteredformulate within local, context-specific semantic and pragmatic frames their understanding of political participation
as they tryto make sense of their day-to-daylives.
And, for sure, the national school system in Turkeyhas
consciously worked at inculcating a "school-mediated,
academy supervised idiom" of intragroupcommunication
that legitimates a particularunderstanding of social order
(Gellner 1983:57).All other interpretations of society and
polity are denied both objective authorityand authoritative
objectivity.These pedagogical intentions have come to inhabit the linguisticconsciousness of pupils but inways the
curriculumnever intended. If some observersof Turkishsociety maintain that home and school succeed in socializing
children into "coreauthoritarianism"(Kagitc,ibasi1970:444;
Mardin1978:242;Shankland1999),many of the schoolchildren whom I taught thought otherwise. Far from wholeheartedlyacceptingauthoritariansocialnorms,theyaspiredto
more egalitarian social relations, to more democratic life
courses and in large part, this was a result of their education. The proceduraland normative understandings of democracy they acquire at school value a selfhood that subverts and (partially) unhinges the moral links between
collective identity and obedience to the state. Democracy
has become both a desirablemeans and end forthose young
men and women tryingto exertsome degree of autonomy in
otherwise constraining social and political relations. Here
the ambivalentand vacillatingrepresentationsin the political sphere open up the possibility of alternativelife courses
for constitutingselfllood.
Less clear is how the fictional younger sister of Nuriye
would have applied her academic studies in real life. I recall
here that she closed her eyes as she was committing to
memory her lesson on democracy.Whatwas she thinkingat
that moment? Was she associating a democratic regime
with the "father-state,"with the rule of the law, or with individual freedoms? We shall never know. She only appears
briefly in the story to bring into sharp relief the tragic life
story of her older sister.Whatwe do know is that the evaluations of polity and society that the schoolchildren Bayram
and Gul articulateddo not reflecttheir realityper se. Rather,
such understandingsof democracyare provisional,if shaky,
linguistic "scaffolds"that these two youths and like-minded
Turkishboys and girls use to imagine alternativesocial and
Acknowledgments. Field research for this article, conducted
from 1989 to 1991,was supported by the Fullbright-Hayesfellowship. The SpencerFoundationsupportedfurtherwriting.In its long
history,this articlehas benefited from the input of many listeners
and readers.I first want to thank Michel-RolphTrouillot,without
whose collegiality,encouragement,and insights this articlewould
not have been possible. An earlierversion of this article was presented at the conference "NewChallengesto Democracy:Perspectives fromthe Periphery,"Ben-GurionUniversityof the Negev, May
21-23, 2000. Since then, this articlehas benefited from close readings by GadiAlgazi,Ye$imArat,Nathan Brown,CharlesTilly,Yishai
Tobin, Dror Ze'evi, and especially AlejandroPaz; I am gratefulto
all of them. Special thanks to the editor Carol Greenhouse and
reviewersof the American Ethnologist; their encouragingand collegial comments helped me sharpen my argument and situate it
for wider anthropologicalconcerns. Last, but most important, I
wish to thank those citizens of Turkeywho kindly shared their
knowledge and hospitalitywith me.
1. This is not the place for a full review of scholarly work on
democracy.Very briefly,democracy is often regardedby scholars
either as a power divested to naturallyautonomous subjects who
limit the effects of the state on civil society (e.g., Bobbio 1987;Dahl
1971,1992;MacPherson1977),or as an associationof citizens, each
possessing certainrights(e.g.,freedom of conscience) that the state
should guaranteeand safeguard(e.g., Hindess 1996;Holmes 1993).
These definitions only tell us how a liberal participatorygovernment ought to function or how an ideal citizenryshould participate
in the politicalprocess that is, if all societies could replicatewhat
JurgenHabermascalls the "liberalmodel of the bourgeois public
sphere" (1989:xviii) the absence of social coercion, the rational
exchange of informedarguments,the freedom to exercise individual choice, the extension of politicalfranchise.In effect,proponents
of both approachesunwittinglyreproducethe categoriesand logics
of a historical discourse that articulatedemocratic forms of participationwith the consolidationof capitalistsociety in Europeand
the emancipation of the male bourgeois individual.
2. Mouffe'sperspective reflects a shift from a consensual equilibrium model of political society and primordialidentities (e.g.,
Geertz 1973)towardapproachesthat emphasize more fragmented
and contested readings of national societies (e.g., Bhabha 1990;
Eickelmanand Salvatore2002). This shift in paradigmhas arisen
as scholars question the salience of methodologicalindividualism
and empiricism, both of which privilege the idea of a coherent,
self-identicalsubject (i.e., reduce a person to a single social or political identity)and treat language use as an objective realityindependent of human will. See Nettle 1997.
3. In other words, a child ought to completely identify her political self with the citizen-state (see Althusser 1971). As Etienne
Balibar(1991:93)suggests, states interpellateeach citizen as homo
nationalis, a member of a national community who is everybody
and nobody-in-particular.That is, citizenship transcends specificity.
4. It is important to note that, although their analyses of the
historicalconsolidation of 18th and l9th-century capitalistsociety
are insightful, both Foucault and Mitchell (mistakenly)presume
that a normativeideal of the bourgeois public sphere is integrated
into the behaviors and discourses of citizens.
5. Similarly,LouisePratt(1987:49)criticizesBenedictAnderson's
"fraternal"notion of the nation, which is congruent with a fixed,
bounded culture.
6. Myanalysisof Wittgensteindrawsprimarilyon his discussions
of language grammar,scaffolding,and familyresemblances:paragraphs 23, 43, 66-69, 77, 92, 102, 139, 185-190, and 210.
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dilemma * American Ethnologist
7. Or as Michael Silversteinand GregUrban state, "Politicscan
be seen ... as the struggle to entextualize authoritatively,and
hence, in one relevantmove, to fe certainmetadiscursiveperspectives on texts and discourse practices"(1996:11).
8. Thus, "hegemonicpractices,"as Laclauand Mouffenote, "are
suturing in so far as their field of operation is determined by the
openness of the social, by the ultimatelyunfixed characterof every
signifier.This originallack is precisely what the hegemonic practices try to fill in" (1985:88).And, of course, it is the historicity of
language and society that brings to bear this tug-of-warbetween
filling and emptying out political signifiers.
9. This articleis based on my doctoralresearchinto the relation
between political movements and modern state formation,on the
one hand, and multiple understandingsof nationalism and modernity, on the other (Kaplan1996). My multisited ethnographyof
a local school system provided an ideal field of inquiry of two interrelatedissues: (1) how competing interest groups broker their
respective culturalpolitics in the highly centralizededucation system in an attempt to define both national and local experience for
schoolchildren;and (2)how parentsand pupils activelyreconfigure
these competing forms of knowledge in their own terms. This research was considerablyfacilitatedby my role as teacher of conversationalEnglishduringthe summer of 1990.My classes brought
together children from different (secularand religious,public and
private,academic-, magnet-, and vocational-track)school systems.
To prepare for in-class dialogues, I assigned essays in Turkishon
various topics, from "the family"to "modernity."Through these
essays and follow-up conversationswith both pupils and parents,
I was able to probe how these social actors made sense of political
terms such as state, democracy,and human rights.To substantiate
my arguments on the curriculum, I use written "ministerial"
sources (textbooks, circulars).In this article I frequently refer to
the biweekly TebliglerDergisi (CommunicationsJournal),which
has reportedall of the decisions of the Ministryof Educationsince
1939.It is beyond the scope of this articleto discuss the ambivalent
roles that teachers play in the nexus of state and society. This dimension of state political culture is discussed in my in-progress
book manuscript.
10. Historically,this belief has meant that the state must first
teach unletteredcitizens to read and write so they may participate.
In the earlysixties, a ministerialdirectiveon adult education stated
that "a significantportion of our people are illiterate,and most of
them are beyond the age of mandatory schooling. Literacyis a
necessary condition for living in a democracy" (TebliglerDergisi
1962:199).Associatingschooling with political education has characterized republican regimes worldwide (e.g., l9th-century Canada; see Corriganet al. 1987). To wit, the sarcastic comments of
the French sociologist Gustave Le Bon, who wrote that "foremost
among the dominant ideas of the present epoch is . . . the notion
that instructionis capable of considerablychanging men, . . . and
even to make them equal. By the mere fact of its being constantly
repeated, this assertion has ended by becoming one of the most
steadfast democratic dogmas" (1960:90).Likewise,teaching Turkish youths democratic forms of political participation became
widely accepted following the introduction of multipartypolitics
afterWorldWarII. Duringthe 1950s and 1960s,the "TurkishPeasant Survey,"a series of studies sponsored jointly by the Turkish
government and the U.S. Agency for InternationalDevelopment
(AID),explored how to "modernize"the political behavior of the
peasantry.JeffersonN. Eastmond,one of the members of this joint
effort, affirmedthat "one of Turkey'smost crucial problems continues to be the development of a population that is educated
enough to allow democratic processes to function" (1964:11).See
also Frey 1963 and Lerner1964.
Of all printed media, textbooks play an inordinate role in fashioning a national identity.What makes primersso effective is that
there is no semantic space to question privilegedrepresentations.
Simple and straightforwardlanguage, strict boundaries between
voices, and unambiguous narrativesconstrain interpretationsto a
predeterminedfield of associations. Schoolchildren(and, for that
matter,instructors)rarelyexplorethe framingand wordingof ideas,
in other words, scrutinizethe linguistic and ideological knowledge
constituted in the curriculum.As Willie van Peer points out, texts
in school primers"say what they mean and mean precisely,neither
more or less than, what they say" (1989:127).
11. Eversince the establishmentof the Turkishrepublicin 1923,
textbooks consistently portraythe late-19th-centuryOttoman sultanate as a period of moraland politicaldecline. On the otherhand,
the republicanregime is supposed to embody the regenerationof
the "Turkish"nation.
12. Thewordingofthe textis the following:"Byvoting,the nation
brings to power the party that it desired.... An election shows
that the [political]regime is a democracy.... One of the foundations of democracy is to show respect and abide by the decisions
the majorityhas taken. In this sense, democracy is both a type of
regime and a way of life. In democracies, duties are just as important as rights"(Ilkokul Hayat Bilgisi 3 1991:93).
13. On the ideological effects of such usages of language, see
Gal and Irvine 1995:980.
14. This was the third military intervention in civilian politics
since the establishment of the republic (1923);the other two occurred in 1960 and 1971.
15. On how, after the 1980 coup, the militaryforged a new national consensus through the curriculum,see Kaplan2002.
16. This discourse on "totalitarian(totaliter) mentality"and "anarchist ideologies" as "enemies of freedom" has been standard
practice in Turkishpolitical rhetoric since the Cold War. See, for
example, Prime MinisterRecep Peker'sspeech to Parliament(Tebligler Dergisi 1946:75-81).
17. As a materialistideology that focuses on economic inequalities and class conflict and that identifies the country's economic
underdevelopmentwith large landowners and the industrial and
commercial middle classes in short, with the capitalist mode of
production that the military and political establishments support- communism is perceived by the militaryas threateningthe
foundationsof the state. Thus,mentioning differentsocial and economic classes let alone class conflict is taboo at school. To suggest otherwiseis to challenge the meritocraticideology that is used
to classifyand differentiatestudents and that legitimates class differences and ensures the coexistence of different socioeconomic
life courses and political unity (see Baudelot and Establet 1971;
Bourdieuand Passeron 1977).Pittingan "immoral"and "artificial"
communism against a "moral"and "natural"democracyresonates
with recent scholarship on the metaphors used in describingpolitical transitionand identity in postsocialist EasternEurope (Berdahl et al. 2000; Gal and Kligman2000).
18. Since the establishment of the republic and even more so
after the 1980 coup, there has been a long-standing debate about
defining certain citizens as Kurds,as part of a separatistnational
In infusing "minorityracialism,"communists try to call
some of our citizens who are spotlessly clean and completely Turkish"Kurds"and thus instigate them against
Turkish-nessand the Turkishstate. They also foster "majority racialism":they instigate some of our citizens
citizens.... Also,commuagainstthe so-called "Kurdish"
nists have convinced some of our [heterodox]Alevi citizens that our Sunni citizens are "right-wingbackward
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American Ethnologist
* Volume30 Number3 August2003
fascists";they do the same with our Sunni citizens claiming that the Alevi citizens "areleftist communists."They
arethus tryingto foment an ideological"strugglebetween
the left and the right,"between the two religious sects.
[TebliglerDergisi 1982a:68]
19. Such rhetorical tactics instantiate what Myers-Scotton
(1990:25)calls "eliteclosure,"namely,the means by which persons
in power maintain their political ascendancy through language
20. Such narrativerealismconstructsa normativeconsciousness
incumbent on all schoolchildren.Throughthe explicit use of "wevoicing,"textbooknarrativespragmaticallyframea singularworldview made up of all-encompassingsignifiers(see Silverstein2000).
21. Of course, how school administratorsand state prosecutors
follow these guidelines is subject to interpretation.In 1989, a 16year-oldstudent, M. C,., servedfourmonths at a maximum-security
prison forwriting"leftist"ideas in his notebook. On M. (;.'s release,
the state prosecutor wanted to incarceratethe youth for another
15 years (CumhurEyet 1989a:1).
22. Takinga top-down approach to forms of political domination, Weber links patrimonialregimes to a culture in which "the
most fundamental obligation of the subjects is the material substance of the ruler" (1968:1014).Missing in his analysis is what
these "subjects"expect from their ruler, that is, how consensus
over relations of dominance and subordinationare forged.
23. When the Turkishparliament legislated mandatory family
names in 1934, it recognized Mustafa Kemal's leadership in the
countryby bestowing on him the last name Ataturk,which means
"fatherof the Turks."
24. That is to say, for many adult heads of household, these "archaic" images provide meaningful frames of reference for understanding the contemporarypolitical economy (see Williams1973).
These images may likewise arouse novel forms of opposition or
give free rein to reactionarynostalgia.
25. To wit, the saying bir tohum ayBotarla (one seed, separate
26. The military advisor to the Ministry of Education insisted
that teachers prepare children to be "obedientto the laws and to
commanders, and respectful to their elders and superiors" (Tebligler Dergisi 1982b:74).
27. Newspapers such as Hurriyet printed summaries of the directive.
28. One of the essays he composed formy conversationalEnglish
class; see Note 9.
29. It goes without saying that any analysis of verbalinteraction
must consider the social context of the speech acts. Clearly,
Bayram'scomments were gearedtowardme; I was both his English
teacher and a representativeof the "modern,""democratic"West.
At the same time, his ability to interpret and act on a political
language presupposes contexts that precede and supercede my
presence (Irvine1996:135,151; see Volosinov 1986).
30. On the pedagogical and performativeaspects of historical
narratives,see Bhabha 1990:297-299,308.
31. The curriculum,moreover, constantly associates the use of
the "veil"(pefe) with the lack of participation of women in the
public sphere, both metonymically representing backwardness.
Overarchingnarrativesof progress and emancipation saturate so
much of children'shistoricalconsciousness that schoolchildrenrelate individual lives and experiences in terms of modernist discourses about dress. Clearly,periodization(as in linkingsocial mores with standardhistoricalperiods primitive,medieval,modern)
is a rhetoricalmeans of breakingaway from a devalued past. It is
also a means of defining and evaluatingcontemporaryrelationsof
32. Such speech acts are strategicresponses to positions of relative powerlessness;see Abu-Lughod1986;Ong 1990.
33. In effect, Gul contests the corporealizationof her identity,
that is, deeply entrenched social norms that assume the female
body preexists its culturalinterpretationand can thereforebe assimilated to an immutable "nature"or cosmos (see, e.g., Butler
1987;Nicholson 1994:83).Rather,this young woman seeks to take
control of the interpretationof her body and thus of the (androcentric) gender norms that constrain her ability to participatein
civil society.
34. Although the curriculum advocates equality between men
and women, it neverthelessendorses the ideal of a patriarchalfamily. State laws only recognize men as legitimate "headsof the family," with the understandingthat the father is the main provider
of the family.Until 1990, a husband was legally empowered to decide where his family would reside and whether or not his wife
could work outside the home.
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acceptedApril30, 2002
final versionsubmittedJuly25, 2002
Sam Kaplan
Departmentof MiddleEastStudies
Ben-GurionUniversityof the Negev
[email protected]
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