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date: 01 October 2022

The Invention of Race in Turkeylocked

The Invention of Race in Turkeylocked

  • Matthew deTarMatthew deTarRhetoric and Public Culture, Ohio University

Summary

Racial thinking in the late Ottoman Empire and Turkey emerged out of a vast global network of hegemonic discourses. Modernity, colonialism, nationalism, and racism are mutually constitutive discourses with respect to their historical emergence in Europe, but they are also mutually constitutive as they emerge in other specific locations. Racisms that emerge subsequent and analogous to European racism help indicate the specific necessary connections among these kinds of broad overlapping discourses. The exploration of racism in Turkey holds significant potential for communication scholars as a means of refining theories of racism that do not typically focus on non-Western racism.

The historical emergence of racism and racial thinking in Turkey also shaped the structure and content of Turkish nationalist history, making certain chronologies and “history-of-ideas” approaches to Turkish historiography fraught scholarly pursuits. Even explorations of the origins of the term Turk reflect this racial thinking, because the Turk concept only began circulating in the late Ottoman empire and early Turkish Republic alongside race science as the name of an ancient race. Race science is, however, only one domain of knowledge production and human experience, and it is not solely responsible for the invention of Turk as a race. Rather, modernization narratives of the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, a catastrophic series of wars in the Balkans, and contact with European nationalisms all uniquely helped establish racial thinking as a hegemonic discourse prior to the foundation of the Turkish Republic. More significantly, the horrors of the Armenian Genocide, the massive Greek population exchange, and policies of forced migration and assimilation toward Kurds during and after World War I materially established the hegemony of Turkish racial discourse and the presumed reality of a Turkish race itself.

In the context of these events, Turkish nationalism must be understood not simply through its own idealistic lens as a project of civic republicanism, but instead as a discourse that emerged in connection with colonialist logics, racism, and modernity. Just as scholars have argued that European modernity is constitutively linked to colonialism and racism, Turkish nationalism embarked on a “modernizing” project beholden to colonialism and racism. Communication scholars interested in both the constitutive dimensions of discourse and the knowledge-producing effect of “universalization” as it appears in discourses like modernity, colonialism, racism, and nationalism will find that the Turkish historical encounter with these discourses offers important insight into the operation of universalization itself.

Subjects

  • Critical/Cultural Studies
  • Communication and Culture
  • International/Global Communication
  • Media and Communication Policy
  • Rhetorical Theory

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