Cover of Bureaucratic Intimacies by Elif M. Babül
Bureaucratic Intimacies
Translating Human Rights in Turkey
Elif M. Babül


248 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503601895
Paperback ISBN: 9781503603172
Ebook ISBN: 9781503603394

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Winner of the 2018 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology, sponsored by the Society for the Anthropology of Europe (a unit of the American Anthropological Association).

Honorable Mention in the 2019 MES Book Award, sponsored by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) - Middle East Section.

Human rights are politically fraught in Turkey, provoking suspicion and scrutiny among government workers for their anti-establishment left-wing connotations. Nevertheless, with eyes worldwide trained on Turkish politics, and with accession to the European Union underway, Turkey's human rights record remains a key indicator of its governmental legitimacy. Bureaucratic Intimacies shows how government workers encounter human rights rhetoric through training programs and articulates the perils and promises of these encounters for the subjects and objects of Turkish governance.

Drawing on years of participant observation in programs for police officers, judges and prosecutors, healthcare workers, and prison personnel, Elif M. Babül argues that the accession process does not always advance human rights. In casting rights as requirements for expertise and professionalism, training programs strip human rights of their radical valences, disassociating them from their political meanings within grassroots movements. Translation of human rights into a tool of good governance leads to competing understandings of what human rights should do, not necessarily to liberal, transparent, and accountable governmental practices. And even as translation renders human rights relevant for the everyday practices of government workers, it ultimately comes at a cost to the politics of human rights in Turkey.

About the author

Elif M. Babül is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Mount Holyoke College.

"To render Turkey a more palatable candidate for membership, the European Union imposed human rights training programs on its state workers, most notably its police. It is this disconcerting enterprise of democratic pedagogy ironically carried out as the government was harshly repressing its opposition that Elif Babül critically examines through a scrupulous and insightful ethnography."

—Didier Fassin, author of Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing

"It is rare for a book with such theoretical breadth and consideration of high-level political and institutional transformation to also offer such amazing, unexpected on-the-ground detail. Bureaucratic Intimacies makes a totally fresh contribution into how European Union harmonization and human rights education seminars actually function."

—Esra Özyürek, The London School of Economics and Political Science

"Human rights advocates constantly grapple with how to persuade countries to adopt human rights. Bureaucratic Intimacies tackles this important question and depicts the tensions between Turkish bureaucrats and international human rights elites. Elif Babül provides wonderful insight into the workings of bureaucracy confronted by international expertise, a very important issue that has, until now, received far too little attention."

—Sally Engle Merry, New York University

"Babül (Mount Holyoke College) describes how Turkish government workers resisted EU demands in the fields of human, women's, children's, and health rights....Recommended."

—R.W. Olson, CHOICE