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The Meaning of Turkey. Narratives and Negotiations of the Islamic and the Secular on Turkish Commercial Television

Applicant Eckert Julia
Number 132388
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Institut für Sozialanthropologie Philosophisch-historische Fakultät Universität Bern
Institution of higher education University of Berne - BE
Main discipline Ethnology
Start/End 01.10.2010 - 31.12.2012
Approved amount 215'030.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Communication sciences

Keywords (10)

Television; State; Islam; Secularism; Civic Culture; Medialisation; Commercialisation; Privatisation; Minorities; Democracy

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
Commercial television is by far the most present and most used medium in everyday life in Turkey today. This research examines how the production of televised discourses on 'Islam' and 'secularism' contributes to a civic culture that questions but also produces and re-produces the state.Since 1990, the Turkish media, and especially television, have undergone a profound process of commercialisation. Early expectations were that this process would lead to more democracy and a weakening of an authoritarian state dominated by the military. The parallel strengthening of the Islamic movement, however, has complicated such straight anticipations. What has become increasingly evident is not only that secularism, in its Turkish variant of Kemalism, has always incorporated certain definitions of Islam. The Islamic movement has also occupied and enabled many motions of a civic but also - especially since the incumbency of the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party AKP - of a legal democratisation. The blossoming of a complex Islamic television landscape, and the reduction of clear-cut censorship, are salient indicators of this process. This increased visibility of Islam, however, has aggravated apprehensions and mistrust regarding the 'real' options of democracy in Turkey. By understanding television as an integral part of contemporary forms of a civic culture, the research explores, on the one hand, how and in how far commercialisation compromises and changes 'real' ambitions of religious as well as of ideological representation and public presence. On the other hand, it looks at how and in how far it is actually the production of discourses and narratives of condescension, mistrust, suspicion and of anti-Kemalism and paternalism, respectively, that complicate democratisation and that re-produce existing state structures. The situation, media representation and media practises of the Kurdish minority serve as a particular indicator.The project relies on extensive qualitative fieldwork from the years 2001/2002 and 2009, which covers the beginning of the first and the peak of the second AKP incumbency. Fieldwork methods employed were programme/image recordings, interviews predominantly with producers in 12 different TV channels but also with viewer groups and social networks, and the collection of documents (legal and public). In the evaluation and analysis, a combination of image-, structural and discourse analysis wants to contribute to a more nuanced and critical understanding of the ways in which manifestations of 'Islam' and 'secularism' have developed in the process and are historically contingent and deeply inter-connected.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



The Secularism of the State and the Secularism of Consumption: ‘Honesty’, ‘Treason’ and the Dynamics of Religious Visibility on Television in India and Turkey
Ohm Britta (2011), The Secularism of the State and the Secularism of Consumption: ‘Honesty’, ‘Treason’ and the Dynamics of Religious Visibility on Television in India and Turkey, in European Journal of Cultural Studies, 14(6), 664-684.
The Ethnographic Moment: Event and Debate in Medial Fieldwork
Ohm Britta, The Ethnographic Moment: Event and Debate in Medial Fieldwork, in Westminster Papers in Culture and Communication (WPCC).

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Paper "Media against Democracy: Why we need a Political Anthropology of the Media" 21.11.2012 Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern
Guest Lecture "Transnationale Medienkonzerne" [Transnational Media Corporations] 12.10.2011 Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern
Guest Lecture "‘Honesty' and 'Treason': The Inversions of Secularism and Religion on Commercialising Television in India and Turkey" 07.09.2011 University of Agder, Norway
Discussant workshop "Media and Social Change" 27.05.2011 School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London/UK


Title Date Place


‘Secularism’ and ‘Islam’ have been key words in the debate about as well as within Turkey for decades. Since 2002, Turkey had, with the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party - AKP), the first government in power that served a full tenure, i.e. without being interrupted by a direct military intervention, despite having its roots in the Turkish Islamic movement. But even, or especially, after its re-election in 2007, the AKP continues to raise intense conflicting expectations and sentiments of hope and suspicion. Hope is directed at a further democratisation of the state in terms of a lessening political influence and definitional power of the military (since the 1980 coup d’état Turkey is still under a military constitution). Suspicion, on the other hand, is driven by the fear of the Islamic movement only using the democratic system in order to ultimately overthrow the secular state. One of the central fields, which articulate these conflicting expectations on an everyday basis, is the mass media, and particularly commercial television. Post liberalisation, television can with around 260 private national, regional and local TV stations, amongst them a varying number of Islamic ones, a reach and access of about 90% of the population and an average consumption of five hours per day and household quite clearly be identified as the leitmedium, i.e. as the main arena of societal and political debate, cultural representation and media practise in Turkey. Surprisingly, its larger implications for the ongoing debate on secularism, Islam, the state and democracy have so far not been the subject of comprehensive scholarly analysis. The project for which we apply here seeks to make a vital contribution to this debate. It proposes that particularly privatised, commercial mass media are as a manifold embedded field of production intrinsic to the negotiation of a civic culture and the state itself. The project thus asks how secularism and Islam - i.e. images and imaginations, visions and visualisations, narratives and practises of televised secularism and Islam - are implicated not only in the change but also in the very production and reproduction of the state.Combining approaches from media anthropology, the anthropology of the state, media and cultural studies, and visual culture studies, the project will analyse television production in 12 private national and local channels for two time periods: 2001/2002, which marks the moment when the AKP was founded and first elected to power, and 2009/2012, when the party’s second incumbency peaks and nears its end. Study focuses for each period on the ways that secularism and Islam figure in the everyday inter-relation between contents and forms of TV programming and discourses and practises of producers, set in context with select groups of viewers, state institutions and social local networks. The project builds on an already existing substantial archive of recorded programming, fieldnotes and qualitative interviews with various agents, including directors of programming, executive producers, journalists, serial writers as well as state officials, activists, Islamic scholars, sheikhs, and community leaders (from ethnography in 2001/2002 and 2009). To compare and relate the two periods offers an opportunity usually rare in anthropology, namely to gauge manifestations and forms of change under the same research question. Such a dynamic approach can empirically substantiate concrete shifts that remain beyond the purview of synchronic analyses. The resulting monograph will be the first on the Turkish television landscape altogether. Representing a thrust towards a political anthropology of the media, it will contribute to academic and public debates on the changing meanings and ramifications of media, politics and the state on a global scale and offer a timely analysis of the inter-connections of Islam and secularism in the context of democracy, nationalism and radicalism.