Taming the Wild: Attracting Capital Through Populist Mobilization in the Urban Landscapes of Istanbul

April 15, 2021

Speaker: Fırat Kurt, Postdoctoral Fellow, Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies, Columbia University

Moderator: Nadia Abu El-Haj, Columbia University

Urban transformation in Turkey, ranging scale from gigantic infrastructural investments to small property redevelopment ventures, has posed one of the most puzzling questions for scholars and activists: why do the urban poor, despite being the most vulnerable to such projects, continue to partake in the populist mobilization around the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)? Grounded in an analysis of how neoliberal assemblages are entangled with urban land markets at the margins of Istanbul, this presentation argues that neoliberal policies are not necessarily implicated in the prevalence of depoliticized individuals—conceptually framed as homo oeconomicus—but also augment potentialities for populist mobilization at the grassroots. The partisans and sympathizers of the AKP find that their social and political activities, from neighborhood organizations to the single-party hegemony in the parliament, are inherently inseparable from economic values. At this very nexus between populist politics and economic forces, global capital emerges as a salient interlocutor that interfaces with political developments and social characteristics, having various predispositions and predilections—an actor whose miraculous powers can be unleashed and destructive tendencies controlled only through collective political mobilization.

This was a virtual event held on April 13, 2021, and organized by The Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies.