Centralized Islam for Socio-Economic Control: Human Capital and Gender Roles in the Service of Moral Economy in Turkey

Sunday, June 26, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
87 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Umut Korkut, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Hande Eslen-Ziya, KwaZulu-Natal University, Durban, South Africa
Our imaginations structure our fundamental moral concepts, and understanding and reasoning of everyday situations (Johnson 1993). New economic moralities (NEM) not only bolster an ideologically defined morality, but also strive to govern it. NEM affects everyday practices and avails social control to authorities in charge. Examining how politico-religious authority makes NEM, we present how politico-religious discourses enact moral economies, generate everyday political economy, and moralize markets in terms of human capital building. Therefore, our conceptualization of economic moralities will thematically relate to the first, second, and fourth panels.

Empirically, we study social engineering through religion under the constitutional umbrella of secular state structures in Turkey. We are particularly interested in the evolution, processes, and effects of NEM under the AKP governments as well as Erdoğan’s Presidency. AKP has been keen to foreground Islamic individual identity through the agency of the Diyanet (Directorate of Religious Affairs), and has instutionalized an officially condoned Islam as the guiding principle in its Friday sermons (hutbe). This transformation implies a new economic morality, and serves to bolster an Islamic individual identity at its service.

The process through which religious values become likely to play a critical role in shaping identity depends on the religious authorities’ aptitude in building a network of religious institutions (McQuillan 2004). The Diyanet has been the main institutional arm of the Turkish state to organize and audit Islamic belief systems along with the dominant political ideology of the times (Mardin 2011). Under AKP governments Diyanet has become a “vehicle for the transmission of cultural rules and conduct” (Haney 2010: 21). The Turkish state controlled by AKP governments defined what being Muslim implies, opened up space for its representation both in micro and macro economic environments, and resonated its own definitions and representations of morality in everyday political economy through the means of mosque sermons.

To delineate how NEM operates in effect to human capital building, we look into gender discourse in hutbes read at Turkish mosques. We have examined 320 hutbes as our data from an empirical research over 20 weeks from September 2012 to September 2013 recorded in ten Turkish provinces. We separated 97 texts related to our research topic regarding gender roles and economic moralities. Some of the most common contents include the definition of family and its components; women’s roles, rights, and responsibilities as women, as wives, and as mothers; men’s roles, rights, and responsibilities as men, as husbands, and as fathers; importance of having children; roles, rights, and responsibilities of children; what is halal and haram; marriage and divorce; adultery; and the concept of community and one’s roles and responsibilities as a part of the community.

Our theoretical proposition is that if women and men formulate their identities around a conservative politico-religious narrative, and carry out economically and religiously condoned compartmentalized roles within families, neighborhoods, market spaces, and a wider socio-economic environment; not only that they would successfully bear respective production roles allocated to them in their polities, but also they would not become economic burdens. In this case, controlled gender identities and roles will not only have high economic returns, but curtail economic costs. NEM serves for “economization of subjects” in everyday political economy (Brown 2015), and disseminate neoliberal market metrics to all other spheres of life including human activity (Çalışkan and Callon 2009). Hence, neoliberal homo oeconomicus takes its shape as human capital, seeking to strengthen its competitive positioning and appreciate its value (Brown 2015: 33-34). This type of economization configures the state as the manager of a firm and the subject as a unit of entrepreneurial and self-investing capital (Brown 2015: 41).

To develop the neoliberal homo oeconomicus, we show that, politically controlled institutionalized religion, via building metanarratives that are later delivered at regular religious rituals, enact moral economies, affects one’s conceptualization of their socio-economic identities and role models. Insomuch as these meta-narratives act as informal institutions in the New Institutional Economics sense of the term (North 1990) by impinging on enriching human capital of the believer, they serve for the purposes of a comprehensive economic transformation. Thereby, when it comes to pursuing a neoliberal economic transformation, even a secular state can permeate religious role models through appropriation of discourses related to family, sexuality, children, masculinity and femininity in religious congregations meeting regularly.

NEM promoted by AKP has been an essential element of neoliberal governmentality in Turkey (Akçalı and Korkut 2015). In studying everyday political economy, we conceptualize neoliberalism as ‘a chaotic concept’ (Jessop 2013), characterized “as a hybrid form of governmentality or a context-dependent regulatory practice” (Brenner et al. 2010; Koch 2013; Weidner 2010). Though economic moralities may have institutional backgrounds, reflecting on their discursive making we illustrate how politico-religious authority infiltrate into everyday economic practices. In other words, discourses enact moral economies, and mold cultural, political, and socio-economic understandings of their individual subjects.

To conclude, our paper will develop the understanding of moral economies and individual identities in the market place by examining officially condoned gender roles and social identities, including conceptualizations of haram and halal. Given the position of Diyanet as an arm of the state, the Turkish case is noteworthy to show how religious authority and the political authority collaborate to achieve NEM. However, our paper will also go beyond essentialism in the study of moral political economy and moralized markets – to our knowledge, extensively studied in the US. With the exception of a few studies (to an extent, Riesebrodt 1990 and Kuru 2009), studies looking at different contexts that lead to NEM do not talk to each other, and do not make use of multilingual sources, and hence fail to portray prevailing tendencies in a plethora of polities. Turkey, however, shows how neoliberal economic agenda and politico-religious ideology collaborate particularly similar to the US. Eventually, our volume offers a novel agenda to alleviate the essentialist tone in existing studies of NEM and contributes to develop a comparative understanding by introducing empirical and conceptual inferences from other contexts.