Gaining Freedoms reveals a new locus for global political change: everyday urban contestation. Cities are often assumed hotbeds of socio-economic division, but this assessment overlooks the importance of urban space and the everyday activities of urban life for empowerment, emancipation, and democratization. Through proximity, neighborhoods, streets, and squares can create unconventional power contestations over lifestyle and consumption. And through struggle, negotiation, and cooperation, competing claims across groups can become platforms to defend freedom and rights from government encroachments.
Drawing on more than seven years of fieldwork in three contested urban sites—a downtown neighborhood and a university campus in Istanbul, and a Turkish neighborhood in Berlin—Berna Turam shows how democratic contestation echoes through urban space. Countering common assumptions that Turkey is strongly polarized between Islamists and secularists, she illustrates how contested urban space encourages creative politics, the kind of politics that advance rights, expression, and representation shared between pious and secular groups. Exceptional moments of protest, like the recent Gezi protests which bookend this study, offer clear external signs of upheaval and disruption, but it is the everyday contestation and interaction that forge alliances and inspire change. Ultimately, Turam argues that the process of democratization is not the reduction of conflict, but rather the capacity to form new alliances out of conflict.
About the author
Berna Turam is Associate Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Northeastern University. She is the author of Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement (Stanford, 2006).
"Analyzing new splits and alliances in Turkish socio-political, Berna Turam's inspiring book provides insights on power, resistance, and ideology, as well as their interactions in everyday life. A very timely book."
—Ahmet T. Kuru, San Diego State University, author of Secularism and State Policies toward Religion: The United States, France, and Turkey
"This exciting book tells the story of how cities can encourage an ethos of democracy and solidarity, enabling divided residents to resist authoritarian states and their ideological dogma. Drawing on the life-worlds of Turkish citizens in Istanbul and Turkish residents in Berlin, Gaining Freedoms represents one of the best treatments of the spatiality of politics in the context of the Middle East."
—Asef Bayat, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, author of Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East
"In Gaining Freedoms, Berna Turam brilliantly illuminates the spatiality of freedom and the manifold links between space and democracy in Istanbul and Berlin. She provides an invaluable service to the interdisciplinary and politically urgent task of thinking through claims for the right to space wherever they occur."
—Tim Cresswell, Northeastern University
" ... this is a valuable book both for its rich ethnographic approach and for presenting an alternative, microlevel perspective to think about what democratization entails and how it can progress."'—Paul Kubicek, American Journal of Sociology