CMES and the Institute of the Environment present:
Environmental activism above politics? How contests over energy projects in Turkey are intertwined with identity politics
Ståle Knudsen, PhD
Professor, Social Anthropology
University of Bergen, Norway
Monday, March 31, 2014
4pm in Marshall 490
In parallel with its rapid economic growth during the last years Turkey has seen a massive investment in and development of energy production. Planned and actual construction of hydropower, gas- and coal-fired power stations as well as nuclear plants has been met with considerable opposition by local population as well as environmental groups. Many organizers of these protests stress that the resistance is 'above politics', yet they are caught in a dilemma where politicized identities can be a resource in mobilizing resistance, but ascription of identities such as 'terrorist' are difficult to avoid. This paper explores and compares how this dilemma is handled in environmental protests and argues that environmental conflicts can only be understood within the context of national identity politics. In Turkey strong social, political and symbolic frames for mobilization are rather reproduced than challenged as the protests, movements and NGOs manoeuvre to gain support for their causes. These frames relate to images of the Turkish nation and internal and external threats to it. Who you are, especially your ethnic or political identity (often correlated), and who you cooperate with often become critical for the credibility of a protest or movement. Environmental activism seldom remains 'issue-based', however much activists themselves claim or desire their protests to be 'above politics'. These characters of environmental social movements in Turkey may explain why they tend not to seek international cooperation and why they may not be as much expressions of a 'mature civil society' as commentators expected during the early years of AKP rule.