Abstract: In the wake of the Taksim Square-Gezi Park Demonstrations, which rocked and riveted Turkey early this past summer, two competing interpretations of the protests rapidly emerged. Were the Gezi demonstrations an unprecedented outpouring of public, liberal dissent, aimed both at the draconian posturings of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo'an and at the pervasive illeberality of Turkish state and political culture more generally? Or, on the other hand, were the protests principally the reactionary spasms of a crumbling elite, previously favored by the illiberal state, that has witnessed its privileges and prerogatives erode in the context of a new, more liberal Turkish political culture? In this essay, I pursue a reading of the Gezi Demonstrations that mediates between, and thereby avoids, these two, politically-opposed interpretations. Based on my reading of formal and informal mass media surrounding the Gezi Protests, as well as a series of brief ethnographic interviews conducted in June and September of this year, I analyze three distinct dimensions of the Gezi Park Demonstrations: the historical roots of the politicization of public space in Republican Turkey; the carnivalesque figure of the “çapulcu” (roughly translatable as “looter”) that has come to define the protesters; and the resonances of the demonstrations with other recent public spectacles of mass dissent across the globe. Above all, I aim to read against the grain of apologetic, ideological discourses of secularism and liberalism in contemporary Turkey, which attempt to effect a simple distinction between the liberal and the illiberal.
Bio: In Autumn 2013, Jeremy F. Walton will join the CETREN Transnational Research Network at Georg August University of Göttingen as a research fellow in the pilot program, “The Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities.” During the 2012-2013 academic year, he was a Jamal Daniel Levant Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS). Prior to this, he was an Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow in New York University’s Religious Studies Program (2009-2012). He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago (2009), and is currently in the process of revising his book manuscript, Pieties of Pluralism: Mediations of Islam, Civil Society and Secularism in Turkey. His recently published article in American Ethnologist, “Confessional Pluralism and the Civil Society Effect: Liberal Mediations of Islam and Secularism in Contemporary Turkey” (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/amet.12013/abstract), summarizes the cardinal themes of his research. Additionally, Dr. Walton co-edited, with John Kelly, Beatrice Jauregui, and Sean T. Mitchell, the collection Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency, and has book chapters in Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency, Orienting Istanbul: Cultural Capital of Europe? and The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies. His teaching and research broadly interrogate the myriad relationships among Islamic practice, the politics of contemporary secularism, and global regimes of power and publicity. Dr. Walton conducted fieldwork for his dissertation in Istanbul and Ankara from 2005 to 2007. Under the auspices of CETREN, his new research project, tentatively titled “Secular Geographies of Nation and Religion on the Margins of the New Europe: Mosque Communities and Civil Society in Turkey and Croatia,” will plumb how transregional discourses of belonging and identity affect pious actors, practices, and communities in distinct yet related political contexts.