Confronting the Turkish state: Women's agency, identity, and the prospects for democracy

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Chandra Talpade Mohanty


Turkey, Feminist democracy, Women's agency, Ethnic conflict, Intersectionality, Feminist citizenship

Subject Categories

Gender and Sexuality | Politics and Social Change | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


This dissertation seeks to answer two major questions: (a) How do women in Turkey articulate their relationship to the Turkish State? and (b) How can women's understandings of the state help them build coalitions for a more democratic state? It constructs an analytic space that stages a conversation between women of different identities in Turkey. Such a conversation has two aims: framing a theory of the state that comes from the collective voices of women in Turkey, and envisioning the possibility of a coalition that could transform the oppressive practices of the state. These aims require that the dissertation focus on women's voices, and explicitly connect these voices to the possibility of having agency in the creation of a more democratic society.

Forty five women were interviewed in Ankara, Istanbul, and North Cyprus in 2007. Even though the interview locations were only in three places, interviewees were born and raised in places such as Gaziantep, Giresun, Diyarbakir, Adana, Kayseri, Bingöl, Yozgat, Erzurum, Çorum, Edirne, Iskenderun, Antalya, Bursa, Izmir, Bulgaria, and Baku-Azerbaijan. They were of diverse backgrounds in terms of formal education and class standing as well as religious, ethnic affiliation and were "covered" and "open" in regard to dress style. There were Kurds, Alevis, Çerkez, Turk, and Armenian women as well as women who came from diverse family backgrounds. The youngest of the interview participants was 20 years old and the oldest was 76 years old. Sources of data include these interviews, scholarly and popular documents, and newspaper and web sources.

Data and analysis suggested that women occupy multiple identities and social locations in Turkey, but they articulate overlapping critiques of the patriarchal, authoritarian Turkish state, and thus, can potentially work in solidarity to challenge the state more effectively and at many levels. Examining differently located women's perception of the Turkish state, the state is theorized as being authoritative (undemocratic, repressive or oppressive) in terms of its structure. There were differences in the experience and perception of the state by different groups of women. The study also focused on coalition-building among female and other marginalized citizens and their use of their own agency to effectively create a democratic shift in a context dominated by patriarchal statist agents. Effective agency to transform the state to a more democratic structure is argued by utilizing feminist theories of intersectionality as well as feminist democracy and citizenship arguments. Moving away from the dichotomy of difference and equality feminism towards understanding gender in terms of its intersections of other social identities is the starting point for a broad coalition of women. Feminist democracy brings an alternative approach to analyzing both the identity conflicts and workings of the state. The study concludes with a discussion about the potentials and possibilities of a broad feminist coalition for the transformation of gender and citizenship policies, and discusses possibilities for collective organizing under an intersectional framework for understanding identities.


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