Listening to Turkey’s Farmers: Rural Perspectives on Structural Reforms and the European Union

By Kyle T. Evered
Submitted to Session P2083 (Contesting/Negotiating the European Union in the Turkish Context, Part I, 2009 Annual Meeting
Over the past two decades, analyses of Turkey and its prospects for European Union accession have been profuse, but they have also tended to be narrow in conceptualization and myopic in their scope of inquiry. Thus far, most studies regarding the membership question have addressed just two broad aspects of the problem; cultural and regional assessments (i.e., matters defined in terms of the ethnic, religious, or “civilizational” fit of Turkey within Europe – often with respect to questions of presumed chauvinism, racism, or xenophobia on the part of Europeans), and the conduct of state-based socio-political and economic reforms (e.g., Turkey’s “progress” in instituting civil or human rights reforms, or “structural adjustments” in the economy). As a result, there has been a serious deficit in the extent to which scholars have scrutinized rigorously anticipated or potential ramifications of union membership for Turkey, its peoples, and its ecologies and environments. To the extent that Turkish sentiments are considered, most sources simply suppose common aspirations for membership within Turkey, and only a few sources observe any measure of apprehension or resistance – generally attributed to assumed frustration with the process or to conjecture about Turkish-held sentiments of nationalism and/or religiosity. In my paper, I contend, however, that there are many unanswered questions and unheard perspectives regarding this process. Based on ongoing fieldwork in rural Turkey with small-scale agriculturalists, I challenge not only commonly held assumptions about Turkish aspirations for EU accession, I also demonstrate the very slight limits of public and scholarly discourse concerning the Turkey-EU question thus far. By presenting findings that emerge from research that engages with rural peoples first-hand to understand and analyze their views about Turkey, Europe, and the potential changes that membership implies, I contend that the voices of farmers reveal profound concerns among Turkey’s rural poor regarding processes of regionalization and impacts that we may presume. In sum, these voices speak to many of the same concerns that we might discern from global-scale critiques associated with shifting governmentalities amid structural reforms and the broader impacts of neoliberalism in the developing world.