Tambar, Kabir

Assistant Professor
Ph.D. University of Chicago, 2009

Kabir Tambar is a sociocultural anthropologist, working at the intersections of political anthropology and the anthropology of religion. He is broadly interested in the politics of history, the affective forms of public criticism, and varieties of Islamic practice in Turkey.

Tambar recently completed a book that centers on the politics of pluralism in contemporary Turkey. The debate about pluralism has generated explosive public argument about the promises of the state-directed modernist project and the form of secular-national citizenship it inscribed. Held to be the basis of political order for much of the twentieth century, statist notions of secularism and nationalism have more recently been drawn into the arena of political dispute as contested ideologies in their own right. Yet if disputes about pluralism have thrown open the constitutive determinants of political modernity, then what notions of political order are being established in their wake? What do those notions owe to the powers of the modern state purportedly being challenged? Examining the case of Turkey’s Alevi community, the book explores how Alevis have been simultaneously championed by state authorities as bearers of the nation’s heritage and questioned as to their loyalty to the state. Focused on the ambivalence of this political incorporation, the book interrogates the intimate coupling of violence and modern political belonging, of domination and political inclusion.

Tambar has also begun examining the instabilities of mass politics in Turkey before and after the 1980 coup d’état. This research explores the difficulties state authorities encountered in the late 20th century in distinguishing between domestic and foreign threats, inter-state and civil war, and more generally between citizens and subversives. The project has also entailed ethnographic work on new forms of popular politics emerging in Turkey today.

Selected Publications: 

2014 The Reckoning of Pluralism: Political Belonging and the Demands of History in Turkey. Stanford University Press.

2013 Historical Critique and Political Voice after the Ottoman Empire. History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History 3 (2): 119-139. Read PDF.

2012 Islamic Reflexivity and the Uncritical Subject. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18 (3): 652-672. Read PDF.

2011 Iterations of Lament: Anachronism and Affect in a Shi‘i Islamic Revival in Turkey. American Ethnologist 38 (3): 484-500. Read PDF.

2010 The Aesthetics of Public Visibility: Alevi Semah and the Paradoxes of Pluralism in Turkey. Comparative Studies in Society and History 52 (3): 652-679. Read PDF.

2009 Secular Populism and the Semiotics of the Crowd in Turkey. Public Culture 21 (3): 517-537. Read PDF.