Part of the Spring 2021 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series
Hayal Akarsu, Junior Research Fellow, Crown Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Brandeis University
This talk will discuss how police reforms, which were expected to reduce police violence, have instead strengthened the state’s and the police’s grip on social life in Turkey. Police reform is at the forefront of public discourse across the world because of the recent wave of police-related crises—from arbitrary killings of Black Americans to the racialization of minorities in Europe, Brazil, and India. In many parts of the Global South, police reform has been central to democratization efforts and the promotion of human rights, and Turkey is a prominent case in point. Supported by international organizations such as the European Union, the Turkish National Police has invested heavily in police reforms over the last 15 years. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research, I will discuss two particular reforms: the introduction of a “use-of-force-continuum” metric, and community-oriented policing models. These reforms enabled police in Turkey to manufacture legally-sanctioned impunity and garner popular support. An ethnography of these emerging policing practices and expertise reveals how necessary but inadequate it is to study policing by focusing on brute force alone. The talk theorizes forms of police power that unfold through reforms. It shows how the alignment of liberal policy objectives with decidedly discriminatory and authoritarian policing practices in non-Western contexts is not another sign of failed reforms. Instead, these realignments reveal the violent undercurrents of liberal reforms, and foreground the contradictions deeply embedded in modern policing.
Hayal Akarsu is a Junior Research Fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies and Lecturer in Anthropology at Brandeis University. Her work has been published in American Ethnologist, Anthropology Today, Society and Space, and Exertions. Her book manuscript, Force Experts: Afterlives of Police Reforms in Turkey, explores the connections between policing, human rights, transnational flows and governance, and lived experiences of security and insecurity.
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