Accepted paper:

Çapulcu ("looter"): an ungovernable figure of the urban commons in Istanbul


Jeremy Walton (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes the çapulcu (‘looter’)—the carnivalesque identity that united the Istanbul Gezi Park protestors—as a figure of the urban commons in Turkey. It argues that the çapulcu constitutes a dilemma of governance in relation to both state sovereignty and neoliberal governmentality.

Paper long abstract:

In the wake of the Taksim Square-Gezi Park Demonstrations, which rocked and riveted Turkey in summer 2013, two competing interpretations of the protests rapidly emerged. Were the Gezi demonstrations an unprecedented outpouring of public, liberal dissent, aimed both at the draconian pronouncements of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and at the pervasive illiberality of Turkish state and political culture more generally? Or, on the other hand, were the protests principally the reactionary spasms of a crumbling elite, previously favored by the illiberal state, that has witnessed its privileges and prerogatives erode in the context of a new Turkish political culture? In this essay, I pursue a reading of the Gezi Demonstrations that mediates between, and thereby avoids, these two opposed interpretations. Based on both an analysis of formal and informal mass media surrounding the Gezi Protests and a series of brief ethnographic interviews conducted in between June 2013 and April 2014, I pursue one particularly vivid aspect the Gezi Park Demonstrations: the carnivalesque figure of the "çapulcu" (roughly translatable as "looter"), which protestors seized upon as a comprehensive identity uniting their various commitments and aims. By tracing radical aesthetics and politics of the urban commons in Istanbul that the çapulcu champions, I argue that the Gezi Protests represent a dilemma of governance for both assertions of Turkish state sovereignty and more recent, neoliberal modes of governmentality rooted in the tolerance and coordination of social and cultural differences.

panel P026
Governing urban commons