identity construction (yes it sounds cliche but...)

As I begin this week, I remember a conversation I had with a doctoral student friend last night who is struggling to finish his PhD. While I managed to meet my deadlines fairly well during my PhD, that was defiinitely an exception. In general, I have also struggled with procrastination, as I believe we all do at some point and I gave some thought to whether there is a vlaue to taking a psychological approach to research. In other words, its helpful to look at what in your life is taking your focus off of the precious mental power you need to invest in research. A great deal of that focus is needed and resolving personal dilemmas as best we can should be an integral part of an academic career since we are less able to go on auto-pilot in our work and the static of distraction is particularly unhelpful.

We also talked a bit about identity among different demographics of modern Turks, a subject I have taken up a bit in my PhD but which needs further work. The crux of the issue is this: I have repeated heard from Turkish interviewees or in informal talks with friends that Turkish culture is constructed. There is no 'real urkish culture' but rather that Turkishness is made of a great mix of identities, cultures and languages (although not religions, interestingly...although that statement could also be refined at a later point).

What fascinates me about this very prevalent discourse in Turkey is, of course, that it suggests that somewhere out there are 'pure cultures' that have retained there ancient lineages largely 'unmixed', which we know is not the case and I think many of the people who describe Turkish culture in this was are also aware of that fact. It seems to me constructions that are older have more of a veneer of 'authenticity' while more recently developed bircolage somehow seems 'mixed' or 'inauthentic'. If newer constructions can be tightly linked to older ones they also seem to have more authenticity. Take for example the city of Athens that was largely unpopulated for centuries until Greek Independence when its connections with Ancient philosophical schools (key to a *new* Greek identity built on past narratives) were seen as ideal for the carving out of a seeminly eternal space, a capital for a newly independent people. A recent and, effectively, mixed space but with a feeling of 'authenticity'. Accoding to BIrtek (see his article 'From Affiliation to Affinity in BenHabib, Shapiro, Petranovic: Identities Afiliations and Allegiances' 2007) something similar took place in Turkey during the late Ottoman Tanzimat period (so, not so terribly long after Greek independence) in which an 'authentic' lifestyle not based strictly on Islamic religious law needed to be established in a way that good include large numbers of people in an Ottoman identity. What emerged was an emphasis on the notion of 'adab' ('edip', turkish) an Islamic concept of right behaviour and way of being that fit well with notions of high culture and etiquette, drawing on an Islamicate foundation/background. So, therefore, not created ex nihilo (i.e. 'inauthenic' by popular perception) but also not seen to be rigidly religious in a style that was at that time out of favour.

So, these tendencies to construct authenticity are everywhere but I am increasingly questioning why so many Turks seem so much more aware of this bricolage than others...

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Comment by Logan Sparks on March 27, 2012 at 9:56am

thank you, john overlapping social circles and segmentary oppositions are both very helpful conceptual tools ofr this subject. regards.

Comment by John McCreery on March 14, 2012 at 2:03pm
Could it be time to resurrect one of the classic anthropological ideas — segmentary opposition? Evans-Pritchard wrote about it among the Nuer. Geertz elaborates on it in his descriptions of Morocco. The basic idea is simple. Who I am depends on who we are fighting. Nothing mysterious here. Sports fans do it all the time, shifting allegiance from team to league depending on the contest in question. In a more anthropological setting, I fight with my neighbor. We are allies in battles with the next neighborhood. Those bloody bastards? They're on our side in a battle with the next town.

Things do get complicated, of course, when a simple tree structure gives way to, borrowing Simmel's notion,I overlapping social circles, which may leave me stuck in the middle.

The critical point about romantic nationalism is that it tries to override all these complications and assert a single, ideally pure national identity. The problem for those asserting such visions is that the local and overlapping loyalties don't automatically disappear. Ask The ghosts of Bismarck, the Meiji Oligarchs, ... And, yes, of course, Attaturk.
Comment by Logan Sparks on March 14, 2012 at 10:37am

Hi John - yes definitely relevant. What occurs to me is that we, of course, see our history through the lense of what we are now, to put an insight of mine in simple terms. So, when Kemalism and 29th century nationalism arrive, they do so in a moment that is perhaps more impactful for Turkey than other societites because rather than just being a project of identity-making and state-building, they also came in the wake of WWI and are seen to have saved Turkey from a very practical sitaution of ruin in which the TUrks would ahve become the last majority Muslim society to finally fall to the western powers and be chopped up between them. When that vast national rescue operation took place and then the new system was a very recently constructed secular-nationalist one, perhaps it created a sense of supericial change and slightly 'inauthentic' identity. So, for example, when I dialogue with people about the origin of 'Turkish' words and they insist that such words are really Arabic or Persian or French (despite being highly turkified grammatically and perhaps in use for many many centuries by Turks) and that 'real' Turkish words are a more turkic sounding synonym, I know this comes through a certain recent disorientation that is a product of the period you mention.

I cant help but feel that an Ottoman saw his or her langauge as Ottoman withouth too many qualms about the fact that some vocab was, in a sense, 'foreign' because the way of perceiving identity and community was previous to the nationalist movements of the 2th centure. I can't prove that, but I can assume there was some difference. Whether that difference made for a more secure or less complex identity, I don't know.

Comment by John McCreery on March 13, 2012 at 2:57am

When I hear people talking about national identities, I find myself thinking not only of Benedict Anderson's imagined communities but also and more directly Michael Kammen's  Mystic Chords of Memory. One author's work is rooted in the study of ethnically mixed populations in Southeast Asia, the other on the creation of tradition in the ethnically mixed United States of America....I find myself recalling the notion that the ethnically homogeneous nation state is an ideal constructed by 19th century European Romantics, who, returning to Turkey,  influenced Attaturk. The Romantic influence has also had an immense impact on both right wing nativist movements and multiculturalism—both of which share the constructed veneration of one language, one blood, one soil that was responsible for the great bloodbaths of the twentieth century and have virtually obliterated from common knowledge the fact that the great empires, from Persia to Rome to the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires were cosmopolitan polities in which ethnic difference was commonplace and no particular barrier to political cooperation or conflict. Does any of this seem relevant?


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