Balconies, Windows, and Doorways: The Architecture of Living Difference among Alevi and Sunni Neighbors in urban Turkey

April 6, 2022 - 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Dr. Banu Gökarıksel
 Banu Gökarıksel

While encounters with strangers in public spaces have been central to ideas about the politics of difference, this presentation argues for the ethical and political significance of encounters among neighbors that take place within the liminal, porous, and ambiguously public/private spaces of neighborhoods. Drawing on research conducted between 2013 and 2016, we focus on the dynamic entanglements of everyday relations between Alevi and Sunni neighbors in three cities across Turkey. There is much at stake in these relations in Sunni-majority Turkey, where Alevis have been at once recognized in their similarity and disavowed and persecuted in their difference. This presentation analyzes how the unique materiality of the spaces of and between neighbors in these cities provides possibilities for recognizing and responding to differences that are understood through a sectarian lens. Balconies, windows, and doorways in apartment buildings provide uncertain boundaries between interiority/exteriority that simultaneously generate intimacy and distance, privacy and exposure. Our participant narratives show how neighbors navigate this complex spatiality by regulating the visibilities, sounds, and smells of their everyday lives, keeping or sharing secrets, and cultivating varying degrees of closeness. We argue that the effective architecture of neighborhood life creates multiple openings for receptive ethical engagement with difference among neighbors. However, there are also anxious antagonisms that exacerbate the precarity of marginalized populations such as Alevis. By centering the spatiality of neighbors and neighborhoods, our analysis contributes to understanding the intimacies, entanglements, and estrangements of living difference at a time of heightened insecurity for those cast as other in Turkey and globally.

Dr. Banu Gökarıksel is Professor of Geography and the Chair of the Curriculum in Global Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

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  • Duke University Center for International and Global Studies
  • Duke University Middle East Studies Center
  • John Hope Franklin Center
  • Wednesdays at the Center Series