Population, Killer Mosquitoes, and the Expansion of Governance: An Examination of Kemalist Public Health

By Kyle T. Evered
Submitted to Session P2656 (Public Health, Wellness, and the Emerging Nation-State, 2011 Annual Meeting
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In the early Turkish republic of the 1920s, population was a central concern for the leadership of the fledgling Kemalist state amid fears of a demographic collapse. Beyond viewing population as simply a geopolitical asset, a robust citizenry was also identified as a crucial foundation for socio-economic development following the War of Independence. Employing critical theory perspectives on governmentality and biopolitics, this paper focuses on how an associated demographic discourse concerning population – in terms both numerical and medical – thus provided a basis for emerging programs in public health, confronting the very real threats posed by disease. Employing the example of the nascent republic’s anti-malarial campaigns, this study thus examines the discursive context in the state’s struggles against malaria. In doing so, it also engages with the early development of medical geography and the cartographic charting of malaria and geographies of risk. Also, in evaluating the modes of governance at play, it addresses and evaluates both the legislative measures and the public education strategies that were employed in combating this widespread disease amid the broader contexts of nation-building. Based upon an analysis of official primary sources, archival documents, and secondary literature on both republican Turkey and histories of anti-malarial projects, this study thus traces one vital trajectory in the development of modern governmentality (i.e., that of public health) within the early Turkish republic.
Still confronting malaria today in some of the areas of southeastern Anatolia – where national cohesion and modern development likewise remain elusive, absolute eradication may be viewed as an unfinished project. Despite shortcomings with the war on malaria, the state and its proponents began to write histories of eradication in triumphal fashion almost as soon as the programs themselves began to take shape. Omitted from these ‘linear’ narratives of nation, population, and progress, however, were any references to how the campaign itself not only served to legitimate the state but also enabled it to insinuate itself into the lives of its citizens, their livelihoods, landscapes, and communities in ways that hitherto were unimaginable.