The Symposium on Politics from Below in Turkey and beyond seeked to identify and discuss, in comparative perspective, the dynamics, effects and modes of “politics from below”. We used the broad wording “politics from below” in a heuristic fashion, in order to question classical definitions of the “political”. This framing aimed to suggest different understandings of politics. Political science on Turkey and the wider region has long been dominated by top-down and macro approaches, addressing mainly national institutions, political leaders, public discourses and legislative productions.

However, sociology has shown that taking in account the implementation of policies by lower administrators, as well as their reception by citizens, challenges common perceptions of political processes. Anthropology has widely challenged the institutional and formal definitions of politics. Gender studies, as well as subaltern studies, have called for broader conceptions of politics. New conceptualizations have been proposed, like “infrapolitics” (Scott), “politique par le bas” (Bayart, Mbembe, Toulador), “vernacular politics” (White) or “low politics” (Bayat). Constructionist approaches have addressed the question from yet another perspective, suggesting that there is nothing “essentially” political, and that “the political”, on the contrary, is constructed and contested.

The aim of this symposium is to open up the very definition of “politics” and discuss multiple social practices whose “political” dimension is at stake. Approaching politics from below encourages us to question the shifting borders and conceptualizations of politics. The symposium therefore encourages several pathways: firstly, to get away from event-driven and institutional analyses of politics by giving more attention to the everyday and the ordinary; secondly, to analyze the multiple social uses of institutions and devices in general; thirdly, to account for a wider range of actors (not only “professional” politicians but also citizens, consumers, residents, lower bureaucrats or activists, street-corner shopkeepers, hackers, etc.) and a wider range of practices (registration, consumption, migration, gossip and denunciation, but also aesthetics, etc.).

How does taking in account politics from below challenge our understanding of power dynamics? “Politics from below” is easily equated with resistance, subversion or autonomy – especially in times of growing authoritarianism. However, politics from below does not necessarily mean contestation, and may as well consolidate domination. Do larger transformations impact politics from below? For instance, does growing authoritarianism lead to the politicization of social phenomena or to the contrary to depoliticization dynamics – may be both at the same time? Does neoliberalism impact ways of doing politics, for example fuel the informalization of politics? How does this dimension challenge our understanding of power dynamics in contemporary Turkey and beyond?

December 1-2, 2016.
Paris, Sciences Po

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