Şerif Mardin’s analysis of the Turkish nation

Şerif Mardin’s analysis of the Turkish nation

How would the sociological transformation that Turkey has been going through under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration result in over the long-term?

If you are conservative, you might rejoice, because “the century-long parenthesis is closing.” If you are secular, you might be in sorrow because “the achievements of the revolution are being lost.” What made Professor Şerif Mardin special was that he transcended such black-and-white templates, and that he researched the extremely complicated processes of change with all of their elements.

‘Neighborhood’ in the Ottoman Empire

Noting that Mardin was an internationally renowned scholar who explained “the problems of urbanization in Turkey,” such as “neighborhood pressure,” esteemed historian Zafer Toprak said, “In my opinion, ‘neighborhood pressure’ forms the major axis of politics in modern-day Turkey, and this process will linger on as long as the country is not sufficiently urbanized.” 

Mardin wrote in his book “Turkish Modernization” that there was not an established urban bourgeoisie in the Ottoman Empire, and the society stood on the dichotomy between “the ruler” and “the ruled.” The ruling elite, particularly during the decline of the Ottoman Empire “did not care about the thoughts or livings of the lower classes.”

Sociological transformations such as the “participation of lower classes in a mutual national life,” which is one of the most important dynamics of modernization and nation-building, had not occurred in the Ottoman Empire, pieces of society did not connect with each other and the Republic of Turkey inherited the strong “neighborhood structure.”

Republic and neighborhood

The late Professor Mardin wrote in “Society and Politics in Turkey” that the republic also viewed the countryside with skepticism and did not let political participation. The republic was founded on “the fortification of the center, above all – that is, the fortification of the party against the periphery [countryside].” This helped the state survive, yet it restrained social change and thus “the neighborhood” persisted. 

Urbanization, the most important sociological dynamic of modernization, could only begin with the economic policies and people’s participation in politics after 1950 (the right-wing Democrat Party’s rise to power). This denoted the transfer of “the neighborhood” to the cities. The values which Şerif Mardin described as “the culture against formality” had come to the cities.

They naturally asked for roads, schools, hospitals, title deeds, employment and political prestige. Right-wing parties placed emphasis on these infrastructure services and expedited urbanization.

Mardin wrote that “the neighborhood” would transform into “the city” through the economic and democratic processes, and that the individual and pluralism would grow stronger. He also indicated that the totalitarian mass society is “more dangerous” than the traditional society. Urbanization and education strengthen urban values and weaken the influence of “the neighborhood” in time.

İbrahim Uslu, the director general of the Ankara Social Research Center (ANAR), talked about the “white right-wing [conservative] voters” - urban and educated - who voted against the presidential system proposed in the constitutional referendum… Mardin passed away before being able to write about the sociological factors behind this, but his students should.

It seems that as “the city” gains strength, the AKP either has to be libertarian, as it was in the beginning, or fervently hang on to “the neighborhood.”