Duke Middle East in Europe (Berlin, Germany) and Project on Being Muslim in Germany: Turkish-Germans and Syrian Refugees

I have been co-directing Duke Middle East in Europe summer program since 2017. This program, based in Berlin, Germany, focuses on the historical development and current spaces of Middle Eastern communities in Europe. We analyze how migrant and refugee communities have made Berlin home and how they have worked with other Berliners to mobilize against displacement and xenophobia. Students take two courses over six weeks and work at Kiron, an NGO that provides refugee youth access to higher education through online courses. We also completed a collective project on Kreuzberg, Berlin in 2018.

In conjunction with this program, I am working with graduate students Devran Ocal (Geography) and Alexis Strang (Trans Atlantic Masters Program) to develop a research project that examines how Turkish-origin Germans perceive and experience the influx of Syrian refugees in Germany and analyzes the relations among these different Muslim and Middle Eastern communities, their settlement patterns, access to resources, and different positioning vis-a-vis the mainstream ethnic German society and the German state.

The Role of Religion in Public Life in Turkey Today (funded by the National Science Foundation)

With Anna J. Secor (Geography, University of Kentucky), this project examines the role of religion in public life in Turkey. The political role of religion has emerged as one of the most urgent philosophical and practical questions of our time. Despite the increasing presence of religious voices in politics and public life worldwide, there remains a critical gap in knowledge regarding how attitudes towards these reconfigurations of the role of religion may vary, who drives them, and what implications they may have for pluralism in diverse public spheres. Turkey is a prime context within which to study the new role of religion in public life that marks our current era. A secular, democratic state in which religious lifestyles have been ascendant within the public sphere in the past decade, Turkey has been ruled since 2002 by a political party that has disavowed its roots in Islamist politics but has effectively combined Islamic values with neoliberal economic policies and spurred the transformation of the roles of Islam and secularism in the public sphere. Given Turkey’s unique status, many observers have suggested that Turkey could be a model for the new Middle East. But could it? Or is the Turkish model destined to flounder on the problem of how religious and non-religious ways of life can accommodate one another in a pluralistic public sphere? A study of Turkish society has the potential to answer some of the most pressing questions of our times about what the increasing political role of religion might mean for democracy.

A collaboration with Kamila Klingorova (Charles University, Prague) is furthering my long term interest in embodied and everyday experience of religion and gender. See our forthcoming article in Gender, Place & Culture, ‘”God was with me everywhere”: women’s everyday practices and embodied experiences of sacred space.”

Gender Politics of Right-Wing Nationalism and Feminist Interventions

With Sara Smith (Geography, UNC-CH) we examines the gender politics of right-wing nationalism and feminist interventions in this project. Our analysis builds on feminist geopolitics, critical race theory, and gender studies and includes three distinct but related topics:

1) Fragile virility: The  ‘strong man’ as an image, embodied performance, and discourse is central to right wing nationalist politics but his virility is always understood to be under threat and thereby in need of vigilant protection and aggressive action. Although this construction of fragile virility is common to many right wing nationalist movements, it takes a slightly different form in each specific context. For example, Trump evokes and appeals to a threatened white masculinity in the US, Erdogan to an oppressed devout Sunni Muslim majority in Turkey, and Modi and Hindu nationalism threatened by Romeo jihadis in India. (See “Making America great again?”: The fascist body politics of Donald Trump, Intersectional feminism beyond U.S. flag hijab and pussy hats in Trump’s America,  and forthcoming article)

2) Demographic fever dreams (with Chris Neubert (Geography, UNC-CH)): Concerns over population change, such as immigration and who is going to have the nation’s babies, play a significant role in right wing nationalism. The threats to the nation, as well as the dreams for the future of the nation often focus on population statistics but despite the vivid specificity of the stories that circulate about demographic threats or fantasies, these stories are rarely based on facts. (forthcoming article)

3) Feminist interventions: Feminist perspectives and action have been crucial to analyze and to resist right wing nationalism/populism with their attention to gendered, racialized, and classed power structures. However, feminist reactions that rely on “feel good” symbols and modes of resistance (such as pink pussy hats in the Women’s March on Washington or the poster of the US flag hijab) have been limited because they have not questioned nationalism, settler colonialism, and capitalism that underwrite masculine dominance, white supremacy, and everyday forms of gendered violence. Our project takes a feminist perspective to analyze the gender and racial politics of right wing nationalisms but also to critically consider the shortcomings of “comfort feminism”, instead seeking more deeply intersectional feminism. (See Intersectional feminism beyond U.S. flag hijab and pussy hats in Trump’s America)

Related to this work and building on the Feminist Geography Conference we organized at UNC-CH in May 2017, Sara Smith, Chris Neubert, Mike Hawkins (Geography), and I are editing a book called “Feminist Geography Unbound: Intimacy, Territory, and Embodied Power” for the Gender, Feminism, and Geography book series edited by Jennifer Fluri and Amy Trauger for West Virginia University Press.

With Sara Smith and Nathan Swanson, we edited a special issue of the journal Area on Territory, Bodies, and Borders.

I have also written more broadly about feminist geopolitics and the Gezi uprisings and the Arab Spring. (see my chapter in Freedom without Permission).


The Struggle for Hurston Hall: Racial Justice Activism at UNC (funded by the UNC-CH Institute of Arts and Humanities)

This project is conducted by a collective of geography graduate students (Michael Hawkins, Stevie Larson, Chris Neubert, Sara Maxwell, and Pavithra Vasudevan) and faculty (Banu Gökarıksel and Sara Smith) working to raise awareness about social justice at UNC-CH. We are committed to feminist approaches to producing knowledge for social change. Identifying racial justice as a primary concern and inspired by students movements, we seek to use art, performance, and creative mapping to move beyond anemic and apolitical institutional approaches to diversity that center whiteness as the norm and fetishize the diverse campus as a metric or checkbox. As faculty and students, how can we work from our shared space but different subject positions to further a justice-based vision of a different future? What role might art play in understanding and interpreting the past and in enacting change?

We see the current moment – in which questions of race and justice are highlighted on the national stage – as an ideal time to place our campus within this national (and global) dialogue. As geographers, we begin from our physical space on campus – the Hurston Hall building – and seek to document how student-led activism to remove the Saunders name from the building – and the institutional response, (designating the building as “Carolina Hall”) – are revealing of the ways that the university campus functions as a site for new visions of justice and the limited institutional work framed as diversity and inclusivity. We will use interactive visual and performance arts methods to construct an alternate archive documenting and exploring how racial histories are experienced, narrated, and contested in campus struggles for memorialization.

Neoliberal Globalization, Modernity, and Identity

This project has two goals: 1) to examine the relationship between political economy and urban space by studying how policies and practices of neoliberalization and global city formation have produced new urban spaces, 2) to analyze social practices and cultural difference produced in and by these new spaces. This work is mainly based on my dissertation and masters thesis and primarily focuses on the new and distinctly constructed spaces of shopping malls in Istanbul. This project also includes a parallel analysis of the case of Jakarta where I have conducted supplementary fieldwork research. My ethnographic data consists of over one hundred and forty interviews I conducted in these two cities between January 2000 and June 2001 and in Istanbul in 1996, in addition to an archival research of city government publications and web sites.

The Veiling Fashion Industry — funded by the National Science Foundation

My research on shopping malls revealed the symbolic exclusion of Islamic dress from this space despite the assertive presence of very fashionably veiled women and the mushrooming veiling-fashion boutiques and department stores across Istanbul. Beginning in the 1990s, a new, increasingly visible and rapidly growing veiling fashion industry has emerged in Turkey (and elsewhere in the ‘Muslim world’). Turkish producers of veiling-fashion have begun to export their products to retail outlets in the Middle East, Europe, and North America. Funded by the National Science Foundation, I am collaborating with Anna Secor (Geography, University of Kentucky) in a research project that investigates the new veiling-fashion industry based in Turkey. We are particularly interested in the intersection of Islamism and capitalism and its geopolitical and cultural implications. This project analyzesa) the scope, history, and geography of the veiling-fashion industry headquartered in Turkey by tracing out the circuits of production, design, sales, and finance that characterize the industry; and b) the implications of the production, sale, and consumption of veiling-fashion for geopolitics, geo-economics, and identity formation in a transnational context.

Sawyer Seminar on Diversity and Conformity in Muslim Societies: Historical Coexistence and Contemporary Struggles — funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation (2009-2010) 

Muslim societies throughout history have been notable in their diversity and tolerance; intermittent “reform” projects, most notably modern political movements, and current military conflicts have sought to impose uniformity on top of this diversity. In this Seminar I am collaborating with Sarah Shields (History, UNC) to examine the tension between diversity and conformity in contemporary Muslim societies. We analyze the historical record to gain new insights about the present through an integrated, multidisciplinary exploration of three topics: the impact of decolonization and subsequent rise of nationalist and Salafi movements; movements to promote uniformity in physical spaces and in vocal expression considered sacred to Islam; and the treatment of those perceived to be outside the mainstream of Muslim societies.