Traveling Theories

Traveling Theories: The History of Anthropology in Turkey (1850-1950)

Project Management: Prof. Dr. Hande A. Birkalan-Gedik

The project critically examines the history of anthropology in Turkey between 1850 and 1950. Anthropology in Turkey can be characterized by eclecticism: it combines evolutionary, nationalist and modern paradigms and forms them into a complex non-western anthropological tradition.

In the context of this project, anthropology is to be understood as a collective term that includes anthropology, folklore, and ethnology. The emerging landscape of anthropology and its peculiarities are shaped in Turkey by national projects, specific intellectual configurations, and the political constellations. The eclecticism of anthropology in Turkey goes back, among other things, to the socio-cultural changes that took place in the declining Ottoman Empire and in the early Turkish Republic among the political and cultural elites of the time. So far, Turkish anthropology has been largely overlooked in the historiography of anthropological disciplines for two reasons. On the one hand, Western theory and practice were able to neglect the “other" anthropologies through their dominance. At that time, Turkey was viewed epistemologically only as an “anthropological field," where only ethnographic knowledge to be gathered. But Turkey was not considered a place of independent anthropological knowledge production. On the other hand, Turkish anthropologists themselves contributed to this invisibility in so far they failed to recognize the uniqueness of their disciplinary development and to refer positively to the resulting peculiarities. In order to take these facets of the invisibility of Turkish anthropology into account, the project takes the analytical perspective of "world anthropologies". With reference to postcolonial theories, this approach emphasizes the unequal distribution of power as a condition for the uneven development of anthropologies in different national contexts.

Against this background, our project is able to emphasize the independence of the traditions in research and teaching in Turkish anthropology. A key assumption here is that Turkish anthropology flourished precisely through “traveling theory" (Said 1982). Here, Turkish anthropology has been negotiating various European ethnological traditions since the 1850s and modifying them in a creative way. Through this original perspective on the dynamic anthropological tradition in Turkey, the project contributes to decentralized anthropological historiography. Based on five defining moments in the specialist history of Turkish anthropology, the project works out the transitions and upheavals in the meanings and uses of central concepts of the discipline, such as race, people, and nation.

Project assistant: Vanessa Ortseifen B.A.

Vanessa Ortseifen has been studying at the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology in Frankfurt since 2017. In her Bachelor's thesis, she dealt with the topic of cultural heritage using the example of UNESCO-awarded Westerwald stoneware. Since October 2020 she studies in the master programme Science and Technology Studies. In the DFG project "Traveling Theories: The History of Anthropology in Turkey (1850-1950)" led by Dr. Hande Birkalan-Gedik, Vanessa Ortseifen has been working as a student assistant since 2019.