I plan to trace the historical precedents for the kinds of understandings of democracy, of participation and of sovereignty that don't really relate to casting a vote and electing your representative.

Mehmet Dosemeci

During the summer of 2013, mass protests erupted in Turkey. Its people poured out into the streets, set up barricades against the police, created liberated zones, and formed neighborhood parliaments in parks to discuss both national and local issues. For Professor Mehmet Dosemeci, history, it was an unexpected alternative practice of democracy that especially engaged youth.

He says, "It's really brought a generation of younger people together who until that point seemed apathetic to politics." Over the summer, the streets of Turkey became a giant school in political self-education. "The protestors were teaching themselves that they could have a stake in their own society, that they could structure this society, that there was a voice for them." 

For years, Dosemeci has studied Turkey's attempts to join the European Economic Community (EEC) – the predecessor of the European Union. His book, Debating Turkish Modernity: Civilization, Nationalism, and the EEC (Cambridge University Press) will be published in December 2013. It focuses on the period between 1959 and 1980, a time when he says, "Turks were able to describe and assess Europe and themselves on their own terms, using their own language and history, rather than having the framework of this relationship stipulated to them." This self-assessment, Dosemeci sees as the benchmark of modernity, a time when, "Turks questioned where they came from, where they were, and where they should be going."

Professor Dosemeci is just beginning a new research project exploring the ephemeral instances of radical democracy within Europe and the Middle East, providing historical context for the popular uprisings that have mushroomed across the Mediterranean basin since 2011. He explains, "I plan to trace the historical precedents for the kinds of understandings of democracy, of participation and of sovereignty that don't really relate to casting a vote and electing your representative." For Dosemeci, this alternate practice of democracy is made possible by a "radical public sphere" that emerged during the French Revolution and developed as the suppressed shadow of liberal representative democracy. 

As a teacher, Dosemeci likens himself to an unlicensed tour guide, one who takes students to the repressed monuments of the past. Dosemeci wants his students to engage in their own kind of self-examination in the face of this erased history. "The true past does not sit well with the present, it cannot be easily digested. Its task is to unsettle, rather than reaffirm or ground, identity." In all of his courses, Dosemeci says he seeks to, "unearth a past that stands as a thorny injunction to the authority of the present, a past that can hopefully animate students to struggle against this authority, whether that be the authority of their parents, their education, or their state." 

Posted October 10, 2013