Ozlem Altan-Olcay, “Getting into form: Tensions of Class and Development”
April 2, 2013, noon, Encina Hall West, Room 208 (616 Serra Street)
Ozlem Altan-Olcay (Koc University), “Getting into form: Tensions of Class and Development”
Abstract: In the recent decades, the global development paradigm has paid increasing attention to issues of gender equality as part of economic development initiatives. To this end, programs that push for women’s gainful economic activities have become popular among development actors across the world. Critiques of these programs have drawn attention to their role in the diffusion of particular economic logics. This paper engages with this discussion, by focusing on the activity of form filling and reporting as a mediator of the relationship between the civil society actors and the beneficiaries of the programs. It is based on fieldwork conducted in two civil society associations in Turkey, whose programs, run in collaboration with a network of private sector funders, international institutions and the government, encourage women to start their own businesses. I argue the following: the designs of the forms that various participants fill out, the networks in which the forms are transmitted, and the authority arrangements they assume are more than mechanisms of data collection. Class tensions that emerge between civil society actors who design the forms and the beneficiaries who are expected to fill them out reflect the difficulties in the diffusion of neoliberal subjectivities. However, when a third set of actors, the international funders, are introduced into the scene, the field workers’ relative vulnerability and proximity to the beneficiaries cause them to take on this activity with zeal and convince women to follow suit. The volume of the activity of reporting and form filling ends up being large enough to become the real thing, rather than a representation of what the actors actually do. The widespread practice contributes to the reproduction of particular logics and subjectivities, including calculative capacity, market success, and gendered familial roles among others.
Ozlem Altan-Olcay is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Koc University (Istanbul, Turkey). She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from New York University. Her teaching and research interests include globalization, gender, political economy within the context of the Middle East. Among her publications are “Gendered Projects of National Identity Formation: The Case of Turkey” (National Identities, 2009), “Defining ‘America’ from a Distance: Local Strategies of the Global in the Middle East” (Middle Eastern Studies, 2008), and “Makan: The Right to the City and New Ways of Understanding Space” (Arab Studies Journal, 2006).