The never ending dance: Islamism, kemalism and the power of self-institution in Turkey

Chris Houston*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Kemalism in Turkey is often presented as an exemplary case of paternalistic and authoritarian modernisation from above, and lauded or condemned for that very reason. Represented in these terms, certain analytic and political binaries are also activated: state versus society; world-view versus life-world; universality versus particularity; inauthenticity versus indigeneity; homogeneity versus heterogeneity/resistance. By contrast, in this paper I seek to sidestep these organising categories to focus on Kemalism and Islamism as rival forms of the same social imaginary signification, and not as shorthand for these polarities. Using a number of representative texts, I argue that the extravagance of Islamist resistance in Turkey post-1980 brings to light the fantastical power of Kemalism itself, exposed as a project of the triumph of the will. This being the case, what has been written in anthropology about acts of 'self-institution'? The work of Nigel Rapport and Cornelius Castoriadis emphasises, in different ways, the arbitrariness and gratuity of social creation out of nothing or self-institution. Pierre Bourdieu's work, on the other hand, is radically contrary to Rapport's in its structuralist elaboration of agency as guided action. My analysis of processes of change within both the Islamist and Republican social movements in Turkey from the early 1990s to the present seeks a temporary rapprochement, at least in this case, between Rapport's methodological individualism and Bourdieu's methodological holism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-178
Number of pages18
JournalThe Australian Journal of Anthropology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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