Civil Society, Islam and Democracy in Turkey: An Urban Geography of Associational Life in Istanbul

  • Secor, Anna (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


A global wave of democratization has transformed the political geography of Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, but the Middle East has remained dominated by authoritarian regimes, with Turkey appearing as a regional anomaly. However, Turkish democracy remains riddled by problems. This research project will focus on civil society in Istanbul, Turkey's largest and most diverse city, as a window into the problem of democratic consolidation in Turkey. Civil society, most often defined as the realm of associational life distinct from both family-life and the state, has been identified as an arena in which values and attitudes that are conducive to democratic governance, such as trust, cooperation and tolerance, are reproduced. In the Middle East, the failure of democracy to take root has often been attributed to the presence of "weak" or disorganized civil societies incapable of acting as countervailing forces to strong states, and to the role of Islam in public life. The central research questions of this study concern the form and extent of civil society in Istanbul, the relationship between civil society and the consolidation of democracy, the diversity of modes of participation in civil society across neighborhood contexts and different groups (based on gender, class, ethnicity, migrant status and religion), and the role of Islamist networks as an alternative avenue of public participation. These research questions will be addressed through a multi-method research design that includes both quantitative and qualitative methods. Seventy-five Istanbul neighborhoods will be selected based on the stratification of all municipal neighborhoods using rates of population change (as an indicator of in-migration) and land-value (as an indicator of class-status). A survey will be administered to a random sample (proportionate to population within the sampled neighborhoods) of voting age residents, for a total sample of 4,000 respondents. In the second stage of the project, ten focus groups of population sub-groups (e.g. women, migrants, high socio-economic status residents, Kurds, Alevis etc.) will be used to explore the meaning and implications of differences across groups in their engagement in civil society, their use of urban space, and their relative acceptance of democratic values. Finally, a case study of Islamist networks in the city will be conducted through interviews with Islamist leaders and activists. This final research stage will provide greater insight into how the Islamist networks and associations function in the city. While the survey data will be analyzed using multi-level logistic modeling techniques, the focus groups and interviews will be discursively analyzed to provide qualitative depth to questions of Islam and difference in Istanbul. This study will offer a new understanding of the architecture of civil society, the variety of associations, relationships, and local contexts that comprise it, and the relationships between Islam, civil society and democracy in Turkey. Democracy in Turkey is of critical human, geopolitical, and theoretical importance. From a Turkish perspective, the consolidation of democracy has been an ongoing goal, not only of the state but also of civil societal elements concerned with human rights and free expression. Turkish democracy is also of international interest, with Turkey's bid to join the European Union hinging on the country's democratic consolidation. Further, as a secular democracy, Turkey is a model for the Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East and Central Asia and. Based on what has so far been established by the civil society literature, it is probable that the future of Turkish democracy will pivot on whether or not democracy takes root in the public sphere, in the values and attitudes of individuals and social groups. This project will be able to offer a clear indication of the level of civil societal activity, its geographical and social distribution, and the relationship between civic engagement (in a range of arenas of civic engagement, including Islamist associational life) and democratic values in Istanbul. This project will contribute to empirical and comparative analyses of the forms and intensity of civil society in different contexts, and to analyses of the relationships between civic engagement, Islamist associational life, and the creation of democratic values. In addition to these empirical contributions, this project will enable the extension of current theories of civil society beyond the historical limitations of Western models, not only by virtue of exploring these relationships in a Muslim-majority society, but also by focusing in the effects of locality, gender and diversity on civic participation and its significance.
Effective start/end date3/15/022/28/05


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