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Building Authoritarianism from Below: The role of youth and diaspora organizations in Turkey

Tuesday September 13, 2022, at 16:00
Online via Zoom

Bilge Yabanci (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice)

The thriving literature on democratic backsliding (known also as ‘autocratization’) often highlights how power-abusing incumbents circumvent checks and balances, tilt the elections, and monopolize formal institutions. This literature is built on the assumption that those incumbents are rational, empowered and organized entities who capture formal institutions through a linear, steady process. This talk aims to offer an alternative approach to authoritarian state making as a complex process broken up into several loci, actors, and interests that are repeatedly negotiated.

Centred on a representative case of contemporary autocratization, Turkey, it will specifically highlight authoritarian rule deployed in everyday life through civil society practices. Empirical data is generated through multi-sited ethnographical fieldwork of youth and diaspora organizations and suggest two major conclusions. First, the dominant assumptions about the state (as a defined set of formal institutions and territory) in the literature limit our ability to fully capture the dynamics of autocratization. The (authoritarian) state is not a unitary entity with institutional and geographical fixity that elected incumbents capture directly. It is constructed through social groups and ‘everyday relations’. Hence, the authoritarian state should be disaggregated into tangible practitioners and techniques of power to better understand the dynamics of autocratization. Second, the liberal-normative paradigm harnessing civil society to pluralism, participation and free association isinadequate in explaining itsrole in autocratization. Civil society can expand the authoritarian state into citizens’ daily lives and hence make it ‘palpable’ through indoctrination, politicized leisure, and clientelism. A theorization of civil society as an intermediary that embodies, produces and deepens democratic backsliding can better theorize how and why autocratization has become a globally widespread ‘trend’.

Dr Bilge Yabanci, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice 

Dr Yabanci is a Global Marie Curie fellow at Northwestern University (USA) and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. Her research is interdisciplinary and connects theoretical and conceptual borders of political science, sociology, and political psychology. Specifically, Dr Yabanci is interested in social movements and civil society under autocratization, populism, and the role of affect and performance in political mobilization. She has expertise in site-intensive interpretive research methods that spans over a decade and across 7 countries.

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