Enchanted welfare : Islamic imaginary and giving to strangers in Turkey

Zeybek, Hilal (2013). Enchanted welfare : Islamic imaginary and giving to strangers in Turkey. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d506


This study explores welfare provision by non-states in contemporary Turkey. It analyses the phenomenon neither as an extension of the redistributive functions of the state nor as part of market mechanisms but through the theoretical lens of gift-giving. It argues that contractual relations of the market or the anonymity of redistribution fall short of acknowledging the personal, asymmetrical and religious formation of this field.

The welfare regime in Turkey is currently undergoing radical transformation, with provisions increasingly expressed within a gift-giving vocabulary. Waqf, the Islamic institution of endowment, plays an important role in this transformation. It provides both the institutional frame of operation and the imaginary signification that interpellates subjects to take part in these operations. Historically, waqf has been the main welfare provider in Muslim societies and has provided a legitimate source of social citizenship. Though its various features, it has shaped the enactments of citizenship throughout a vast geography. This research is also an endeavour to see how these historical features inform the present landscape of welfare provision in Turkey.

The research is built upon an extensive ethnography conducted in a central Anatolian city, with a booming industry and an Islamic outlook. The particular focus of this research, given its anthropological methodology, is the daily practices of various field actors. Instantiations of gift-giving characterize the majority of these practices-things, services, prayers, and recognition changing hands. Starting with this observation, the dissertation approaches gift-giving as a prominent mechanism in the field of welfare provision in Turkey. The significance of this paradigm is discussed vis-a-vis dominant political economic discourses, and the ethical and political potentials it brings forth are illustrated. This study is an invitation to have a fuller grasp of welfare provision as a hybrid field of social, political and ethical norms, behaviour and institutions.

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