New Woman and Moral Politics

A Herstory of Women’s Feelings and Agency in Turkey

Esra Sarioglu

My research focuses on gendered schemas of shame and the ways in which body politics transforms in Turkey. Drawing on insights from Bourdieusian sociology, symbolic interactionism, queer studies, and feminist phenomenology, I argue that body politics in Turkey has undergone a profound and momentous shift in the global era, with the erosion of the shame/honor paradigm, a disciplinary mechanism that has long regulated women’s affective and embodied capacities. The construct of feminine humility, followed by the changes in shame/honor paradigm, ceases to be the moral firmament that supports gender hierarchies in Turkey, giving way to new modalities of being in the world and with others. Based on ethnographic research on working women in urban Turkey, through both ethnography and in-depth interviews, I demonstrate that women have acquired new affective and interactional capacities that allow them to exercise new modes of embodied agency, owing to two remarkable transformations that took place during the global restructuring: the rise of a service economy and the gender equality legislation in the early 2000s. My research also examines the ways in which the AKP government represents a particular politics of gender, orchestrating a backlash against changes in gender dynamics in Turkey.

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