Electrifying the Nation-State: Generating Consent in Republican Turkey

By Cihan Tekay
Submitted to Session P4940 (Authority in Concrete: State, Space, and Infrastructures in Turkey, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The history of electrification in Turkey is connected to the transformation of social life, state formation, and the emergence of citizens who became consumers of energy derived from natural resources. Electrification took place within the context of the Republic’s modernization project, which brought profound political-economic and social changes that continue to shape Turkish society. Through archival ethnography, my project analyzes the processes that brought modern citizens and state into being through the creation of an electrical infrastructure in Turkey’s early Republican era, 1923-1950. I argue that electrification played a key part in Turkey’s modernization, because it made possible two things crucial to the development of capitalism and the consolidation of the modern state: industrialization and the creation of a citizen who consumes technological commodities. Analyzing the processes of electrification and the subjects it generated in Turkey thus provides insight into how state power is consolidated through the reproduction of citizen-subjects and through the state’s relationship to capital and resources, as well as its hold over the provision and regulation of utilities like electricity. My paper explores this consolidation, asking: how is modernization and the Gramscian notion of popular consent connected to the state's role as the main provider of infrastructure for its citizens? How did electrification help to produce modern citizen-subjects in Turkey? How was the image of a state acting for the common interest of the nation created? This paper aims to integrate the history of infrastructure and political economy in Turkey with the project of state-building, modernization and subject formation by investigating the relationships between state, capital, electricity and society. It seeks to bridge the divide between two approaches to the concept of the state in Turkey: those which focus on class, capital and state power as their object of analysis, and those that hone in on subject formation and the experience of state power in the everyday. Thus, I aim to provide an understanding of Turkish modernization that goes beyond explanations of modernization as a solely cultural phenomenon by introducing a political economic approach that also takes into account changes in the everyday lives of citizens.