Prof. Aydın Uğur on Turkish cultural analysis

From Aydın Uğur’s talk Culture and Politics in Turkey. 11/24/2009. Well, i am quite late to post it but it is still valid.

Prof. Aydın Uğur, who is one of two life-saving academicians in my early academic years, gave a special lecture for our Media Studies MA program a while ago. The lecture was open to public. Prof. Uğur focused on the development of concept of culture in Turkish social sciences with particular emphasis on Communication studies. Here are my brief notes:

Culture was not in the agenda at all in the early years of Communication studies in Turkey. A sociology graduate would be accepted as a TA to the Communication faculty as sociology was alien and irrelevant to Communication studies. [This had happened 22 years ago: When our current Media dept chair Prof. Halil Nalçaoğlu applied to a teaching assistantship position in a Communication school in Ankara after graduating from METU Sociology, he wouldn’t be accepted. Then a newly PhD graduate, that is Aydın Uğur would try hard to persuade the faculty and only in the end Halil hoca would become a TA and Aydın hoca’s very first graduate student:)

Not only would Communication scholars be alien to the concept of Culture in pre-1980 years.

Leftist scholars would undermine culture within the rubric of suprastructure.

Other intellectuals were interested in ?high culture? issues, like studies on Shakespeare

There were folk studies people who used Culture in a particular and limited way.

Political cultural developments after 1968 began to have an impact over Turkish intellectuals.

Frankfurt School, that problematized Culture, became known to Turkish scholars/intellectuals.

But only with Stuart Hall‘s writings in late 70s and early 80s, Culture began to be a central concept…

12 September 1980 coup crushed leftism.

1- Issues of identity began to play a more central role. Leftists could not stop that trend. Non-Stalinist leftist intellectuals began to be more vocal.

YAZKO journal circle. Feminist writings at that time. Murat Belge and Ünsal Oskay’s studies shaped the new intellectual environment. In those years, Meral Özbek’s study on Arabesk was revolutionary. [BUNLARIN HEPSİNE LINK BUL] Her focus on a ?low-brow? musical style could not be imagined as a theme of PhD dissertation before…

2- Culture introduced to popular culture: Harika Avcı, a popular actress/singer declares: I want a husband with culture. Although her idea was an older meaning of culture related to being encultured in high cultural lifestyle, it was still a new concept to appear in popular imaginations…

3- Need to define what culture is. ?A totality of all material and immaterial values that are shared by a community of people? is so encompassing that renders itself useless. We have to get rid of a description of Culture to be defined through essentialisms. This totally misses the change, innovation and agency.

Prof. Aydın Uğur then decides to play with a basic structuralist notion: Binarisms. If only a binary opposition affects agents’ access to opportunities, then it has to be taken seriously. And in fact, a culture of a society can only be discussed through these ?serious? binary oppositions. Prof. Uğur particularly emphasisez the ?conflictual? nature of culture formation. In this context, he introduces 11 binary oppositions, which he names as a [FAYS] of Social Identity, to work on the working of culture in Turkey:

  1. Rich vs. Poor
  2. Man vs Woman
  3. Kurdish vs. Turkish
  4. Sunni vs. Alevite
  5. Urban vs. Rural
  6. Secularist vs. Fundamentalist
  7. Capital vs. Working classes
  8. Conservative vs. Liberal
  9. Easterner vs. Westerner
  10. Leftist vs. Rightist
  11. Educated vs. Uneducated

Thus, Turkish is the consequence of negotiations within these binary oppositions.

(muslim vs. non-muslim opposition can also be included in the Imaginary since non-Muslims are statistically insignificant in 75 million Turkey population.

Thus there is no identity but identity strategies.

Culture is negotiatable and changing and certainly not essentialist.

Social science should not have universalistic claims in this context of multiple negotiations. Better to be moderate and only claim sub-universalisms.

Prof. Uğur’s approach was too descriptive and not an analytically definional attempt. He offered an approach more  advanced  than classical structuralism and that had potential to go beyond but as it remains it is still within the parameters of structuralism…

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