Kurdish Moral/Political Economy in Polanyi's Moral and Embedded Economy Frame: The Political Economy and (Non)Great Transmogrification of Kurds in the Fin-De-Siecle

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
87 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Tekdemir Omer, University of Westminster, Department of Politics and International Relations, London, United Kingdom
Mehmet Asutay, Durham University Business School, Durham, United Kingdom
Karl Polanyi’s embedded economy or moral economy as a core argument is increasingly employed by interdisciplinary scholars, including political economy, political theory, (economic) sociology, anthropology and international relations (Block, 2003; Mendell and Salee, 1991; Kenneth and Polanyi-Levitt, 2006). Polanyi (1944), identifies as to how the pursuit of liberal expansion materialize and thus the society move into “self-regulating market economy” system. Therefore, this radical shift into market economy is marked with the emergence of “fictitious commodities” which replaced the substantial principles of reciprocity and redistribution through dis-embedding economy from social fabric. Moreover, the new order has succeeded with economic transformation of the civil societies (into ‘market society’ which is an illusion for Polanyi) and creation of the political societies within the form of nation states.

Polanyi in his seminal work never denies the utility of market for the allocation of goods, but he advocates the market (exchange) took its place alongside other principles, such as reciprocity and redistribution as the economy is embedded in social institutions (Sandbrook, 2011; Blyth, 2002; Bugra and Agartan, 2007; Somers and Block, 2014; Silver and Arrighi, 2003). Therefore, Polanyi portrays conversion of the political economy system in the nineteenth century age as the subordination of social structure to the market economy through institutionalising and dis-embedding the economy relation of the society from social and political life, which is occurred by creation of the fictitious commodities of labour, land and money as beyond human agency. Accordingly, Polanyi describes the notion of “double movement” as a new moral position, whereby society react in protectionist way to preserve itself against this “satanic mill” from the ravages of the liberal laissez faire through re-embedding the economy into social and political sphere, hence construct a new form of social regulation through a number of new emerged form such as trade unions.

The Kurds, as a Muslim society in the Middle East, , when the great transformation was happening, insisted on their moral economy, which was an embedded economy and away from commoditisation and fictitious commodities of land, nature and money. While the Ottoman Empire began to transform its society towards self-regulating market economy system with the Young Turk revolution, the Kurds rejected such transformation on the ground of ‘moral economy’ as they wanted to protect and develop themselves within their traditional eşîr/eshir (tribal) and spiritual religious (e.g. Islami) norms, values, and morality that already embedded in the political economy of their societies. Particularly land is the pivotal element of the Kurdish political economy and controlled by customs and values of the eshir order. However, this resulted in Kurds not being able to reach in the end their own nation states during so-called modern institutionalisation and industrialisation project of the nineteenth century, which simultaneously left Kurdish society -perhaps even today- as an underdeveloped or late developed nation, according to modernist perspective. Thus, this ‘great regression’ remained an important demarcation line in the trajectory of the Kurdish political economy in the modern times. Considering that moral economy with its embededdness is considered as a solution to the (neo)liberal economy (capitalism) as fictitious products have resulted in crisis after crisis, this paper, hence, aims at exploring and critically analysing the moral economy bases of the non-transforming nature of the Kurdish political economy in the nineteenth and early twenty centuries as identified with the era of late Ottoman Empire and earlier the Republic of Turkey. Moreover, this paper seeks to explore and critically analyse the historical, traditional and characteristic dimension of the internal dynamics, which was preventing the transformation process of Kurdish society into the economically capitalised, industrialised and institutionalised and politically modern nation state building process and obtaining to embedded the economy in social, cultural and political spheres.

In this respect, utilising the theoretical framework that offered and developed by Polanyi helps us to analyse the nature and content of the social formation through the modes of production as a concept within the peripheral economy, cultural and anthropological (or ethnographic) aspects.

The lack of systematic explanations for Kurdish late development has motivated the study to ask question of what internal factors impacted the transformation process? What did embeddeness in the sense of Islamic morality mean for the Kurds? How and in which way resistance to the modernisation process in the Kurdish society? In responding to this questions and the essentialist, modernist and linear developmentalist approach, which argues absence of modern institutions, such as nation state, bourgeoisie, working class or civil society, constitutes an obstacle to Kurdish society’s transformation process of the time is not deniable. However, this paper attempts to dispel and goes beyond such external and macro factors by examining the society’s aspiration to modernity as expressed and articulated by the contents of the inner results through a micro or bottom-up perspective. As a result, one may ague that the Kurds were not integrated with (or interested in) modern institutions during the emergence of self-regulating market economy in the late Ottoman period, which had already been started driving the ‘central’ Ottoman embedded imperial political economy, as the everyday life of Kurds has been experienced and conceptualised in strong spiritual/religious values and customs, rather than capitalist and materialist concepts.

It can be concluded that Islamic moral economy articulations in the Kurdish society has been one of the reasons for the Kurds not embarking on nation state and capitalist social formation. While this substantive morality is determined by Islam as a religion, Kurdish social formation contributed to the institutional development of such formation. Thus, traditional form of Kurdish political economy can be formed and explained as a moral economy embedded within the forms expressed in social, cultural and political spheres of the Kurdish society.