From one bibliography to another… Regarding the latest “Dossier de l’IFEA”

IFEABulten 21_K_couvOn February 11, 2014 the 21st issue in the series “Turkey today” of the journal Dossiers de l’IFEA was put online. Entitled Istanbul bibliography 2000-2013, this thick issue echoed the number 4 of the same series – The Istanbul megalopolis 1960-2000 – published in October 2000, nearly fifteen years ago. The creation of this series reflects a research tradition that is part of the identity of our institution. Without pretending to compare these two productions, as the first had very modest ambitions, the confrontation of these two issues – the first with twenty pages while the second totals two hundred and sixteen – inspired a few remarks.

The striking difference in volume between the two issues is partly due to a significant rise in the number of studies on Istanbul since the beginning of the year 2000, itself due both to the increase in the number of sites for the production of knowledge on Istanbul (new universities, new foundations, new research centers) and the emergence of Istanbul as a privileged “urban product” on the international tourism market (which is the subject of a separate category, p. 198-201), as well as cultural practices and research. The increasing international visibility of Turkey and exceptional leadership role of Istanbul in this process have undoubtedly played well: the entrance of Istanbul in the international agenda as a tourist destination and site for special events has been accompanied by a renewed interest in studies about the megalopolis.

On the other hand, the rapid increase of large developments as well as urban transformation in the 2000s decade has had the effect of drawing attention to Istanbul, both in terms of architectural and urban projects, as well as regarding the social movements triggered by interventions that are sometimes forceful and violent. Also, as Eda Güçlü has pointed out – whose research draws on the often unexplored universe of student productions -, the amount of academic work critical of the government’s urban transformation policies is quite striking. In the same vein and in a reactive/interactive way regarding the socio-economic and political developments recorded, other themes have taken a prominent place in the bibliography: the environment, cultural policies, heritage conservation, or socio-spatial segregation. Academic production, as this issue reflects, is also influenced by fads or context (as the context in 2010 when Istanbul was one of the European Capitals of Culture) or by inertia effects that one can quite easily identify.

The 2000s also saw the affirmation of a conservative gaze upon Istanbul supported by new institutions (such as some private universities, some research centers, some publishing houses – like Timaş – or some authors who have become very prominent). This gaze is at the origin of numerous publications on objects of study, districts, “monuments”, moments in history, social groups and figures hitherto little considered by the scientific production devoted to Istanbul.

Moreover, the inflation of localized studies (pp. 19-27) also deserves to be highlighted. If in the previous bibliography an inflection to the local had been noticed, since the late 1990s we are witnessing the development of a massive movement in this direction. At the university, some social science disciplines have clearly shifted their focus towards studies rooted in nearby and more specific fields. The immediate environment thus seems to have become a research topic in its own right, accepted as such.

The question of improving the conditions of possibility of urban research may also be raised. In the 1990s still, fieldwork in Istanbul was not always easy, in a context of great political instability, intense but chaotic urban growth, and a general distrust of social scientists (and not just of foreigners). The climate has definitely changed. The ethnic dimension that was repressed for a long time or considered suspect has been openly integrated in the research field, which is no longer confined to recognized religious minorities (even if the tropism remains).

Finally, the period considered is one of a change in publishing media, with the systematization of “online” production – of which this issue is also an example – which, to use the perspective of the theory of media spheres, has changed the conditions of production and distribution. Istanbul studies have not escaped this trend, and have seen the emergence of new products that are now taking an important place in the bibliographies. Other products have unfortunately disappeared since 2000, such as the “Journal of Istanbul” (İstanbul Dergisi), published by the Foundation for History, whose life was short (1992-2008, with 59 numbers which remain a very valuable resource).

In a nutshell, the “lost paradigm of Turkish society” (in the words of Şirin Tekeli) to which we alluded in the introduction to the 2000 issue is in the process of being appropriated – appropriation of a story, of an environment, of neglected populations and territories – , as evidenced by this impressive bibliography. Therefore, it seems important to us for the IFEA to continue, especially through its observatories, to make more visible and accessible for a public who cannot follow the scientific production in Turkey, contributions that should be taken seriously into account by European research. Moreover, the creation of an email address exclusively devoted to proposals to extend this bibliography highlights the spirit of the enterprise: a work in progress shared as much as possible online. Our ambition, in the longer term, is to eventually develop upgradable “resource centers” on other themes currently under research at the IFEA.

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