Submitted to the faculty of the University
Graduate School
In partial fulfillment of the degree
Doctor of Philosophy
In the Department of Sociology,
Indiana University
November, 2005


This study concerns the constitution of the subjectivities and identities of rural-to-urban migrant women and the ways they re-make urban space in Turkey. Based on fifty life-story interviews conducted in a district of Istanbul (called Esenyurt) during 2001-02, I
argue that stories of suffering play an important role in how women take up modern subject positions and how they come to belong to urban space in Turkey. Moreover, the institutions of the state are crucial in shaping the terms through which women articulate their stories of suffering and belonging. State institutions produce a sense of marginality in migrants’ spaces and dictate how this marginality could be overcome. The state also contributes to the production of modernity as a ‘fetish’ in Turkey. Women’s stories of suffering and belonging both reproduce and challenge these discourses. While the life-stories collected in this study are told in relation to a fetish-ized understanding of
modernity that women aspire to achieve, these stories also highlight the fact that modern experiences at the margins are often painful, fashioned at the intersection of the violence of the state, of kinship and of capital. I specifically focus on four different ways in which (narrative and spatial) belonging occurs. First, by telling life-stories of success–where the present is described as a space of comfort achieved after struggle and suffering–some migrant women belong to the urban space as middle-class citizens. Second, by telling  stories about the “forgotten histories” of place and by articulating “the loss” produced in the process of migration and settlement, some women belong to urban space as melancholic subjects. Third, by displaying their “poverty” before state institutions in order to gain access to certain benefits, some women belong to urban space as people in need to be helped by the state. Finally, Kurdish internally displaced people belong to  urban space critically—they continuously use the poisonous knowledge they gained during forced displacement to interpret their experiences in urban space. Understanding these different voices is important in contemporary Turkey, because they are constitutive of an emerging neo-liberal public.



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