Cover image for Islamist mobilization in Turkey : a study in vernacular politics
Islamist mobilization in Turkey : a study in vernacular politics
White, Jenny B. (Jenny Barbara), 1953-
Publication Information:
Seattle : University of Washington Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xi, 299 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
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BP173.7 .W45 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Winner of the William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology

The emergence of an Islamist movement and the startling buoyancy of Islamic political parties in Turkey--a model of secular modernization, a cosmopolitan frontier, and NATO ally--has puzzled Western observers. As the appeal of the Islamist Welfare Party spread through Turkish society, including the middle class, in the 1990s, the party won numerous local elections and became one of the largest parties represented in parliament, even holding the prime ministership in 1996 and 1997. Welfare was formally banned and closed in 1998, and its successor, Virtue, was banned in 2001, for allegedly posing a threat to the state, but the Islamist movement continues to grow in popularity.

Jenny White has produced an ethnography of contemporary Istanbul that charts the success of Islamist mobilization through the eyes of ordinary people. Drawing on neighborhood interviews gathered over twenty years of fieldwork, she focuses intently on the genesis and continuing appeal of Islamic politics in the fabric of Turkish society and among mobilizing and mobilized elites, women, and educated populations.

White shows how everyday concerns and interpersonal relations, rather than Islamic dogma, helped Welfare gain access to community networks, building on continuing face-to-face relationships by way of interactions with constituents through trusted neighbors. She argues that Islamic political networks are based on cultural understandings of relationships, duties, and trust. She also illustrates how Islamic activists have sustained cohesion despite contradictory agendas and beliefs, and how civic organizations, through local relationships, have ensured the autonomy of these networks from the national political organizations in whose service they appear to act.

To illuminate the local culture of Istanbul, White has interviewed residents, activists, party officials, and municipal administrators and participated in their activities. She draws on rich experiences and research made possible by years of firsthand observation in the streets and homes of Umraniye, a large neighborhood that grew in tandem with Turkey's modernization in the late 20th century. This book will appeal to anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and analysts of Islamic and Middle Eastern politics.

Author Notes

Jenny B. White is associate professor of anthropology at Boston University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

White (anthropology, Boston Univ.) challenges the scholarly literature on civil society with her argument that informal women's networks and neighborhood organizations in Istanbul are a key to understanding the strength of Islamist parties in Turkey. White calls this process--indicative of a populist democratic culture invisible if investigated through a model of formal civic organizations--"vernacular politics." Based on study of a working-class neighborhood in Istanbul and two local groups (one Islamist, one secular), the book stands as welcome anthropological reportage, given the recent assumption of office of the Islamist Justice and Development Party in Turkey. Amidst Western reporting of a secular-religious divide in that country, White portrays a fluid situation in which markers of being Islamist, such as dress, vary widely depending on class and generation. Many Islamists are more tolerant than secularists of those in their milieu who do not adhere to their norms; there is a Kemalist secular ideology, but no one Islamist ideology. The book lacks a strong theoretical or comparative base, but it is an engaging, highly personal account of value to students as well as scholars of local, especially feminist, politics. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. C. D. Smith University of Arizona

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xii
Introductionp. 3
1 The Political Economy of Culturep. 29
2 Religion and Politics in the Everydayp. 77
3 The Institutional Expression of Islamp. 103
4 Generation X and the Virtue Partyp. 131
5 Populism: Democracy Is Peace of Mindp. 156
6 Civil Society: In Whose Service?p. 178
7 Islamist Elitism and Women's Choicesp. 212
8 Secular Activism in Umraniyep. 242
Conclusionp. 261
Postscriptp. 273
Notesp. 277
Bibliographyp. 281
Indexp. 289