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By D. Kuzmanovic

Drawing on information from ethnographic fieldwork between civic activists and picking out various household and foreign socio-political contexts, Refractions of Civil Society in Turkey explores assorted perceptions of civil society in Turkey and pursues the overall query of why civil society holds such strength to maneuver those that evoke it.

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As Chapter 3 in this book shows, the civic activists’ definition of themselves as an independent social force vis-à-vis the state by using the idiom of civil society is a prime means to establish legitimacy as social actors. This insight is in line with Hersant and Toumarkine’s conclusions from their study of hometown associations in Turkey. Here, they point out that “ . . associations use the idiom [of civil society] in a desire to legitimate themselves” and “shelter behind the label [of] civil society” to disassociate themselves from state power (2005: paragraph 7).

The universality of modern western notions of the person, what Seligman calls the autonomous agentic individual” (Hann 1996: 5). In other words, civil society somehow presupposes autonomous individuality as a dominant mode of subjectivity in the context of civic participation. Furthermore, agency is defined as a hallmark of what such autonomy implies and how it is lived. In the same vein, the autonomous, empowered individual becomes a normative, desirable ideal, something that should be sustained and nourished as part of the democratization efforts envisioned as the prime social vision of neoliberalism.

The second tendency is a continued focus on civil society as a positive analytical term. Existing studies of civil society in Turkey are primarily organizational studies, dealing with particular bounded segments of civil society. The CSOs in Turkey have been demarcated by reference to their form (NGO, chamber, union, industrial organizations), their activities (charity, advocacy, education), or as is most often the case, their ideological outlook (leftist, right-wing nationalist, Kemalist, liberal, proIslamic), cultural characteristics (Alevi, Sunni, Kurdish, women), or social profile (class).

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