in the Near East
Mapping Gender in the Near East
What’s New and What’s Ahead in Ottoman and Turkish Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
An international and interdisciplinary workshop
December 9-10, 2020
While pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (ANAMED), I conceived of an international and interdisciplinary workshop to connect scholars from across the academic world to discuss gender studies in a variety of disciplines, to exchange ideas and encouragement, and most of all, to discuss how best to pool our existing resources to maximize our impact. The idea received crucial support from the Orient-Institut Istanbul (OII) and Sabancı University Gender and Women’s Studies (SU Gender), along with institutional partnership from Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (ANAMED) and the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul (SRII). Together we convened the “Mapping Gender in the Near East” workshop in December 2020 to discuss Ottoman and Turkish women’s, gender, and sexuality studies across several major fields – including history, literature, and interdisciplinary studies. More than thirty scholars from nine different countries met virtually to compare their research, and to create new proposals to further their institutional and intellectual goals for advancing the study of women and gender in Turkey.
I originally designed this workshop to address two problems in women’s and gender studies: the lack of transnational and comparative scholarship, as well as the dearth of interdisciplinary collaboration. It responds to the fact that the scholarly literatures in women’s and gender studies in the Ottoman-Turkish milieu and in the Arab and Balkan world have been, on the whole, kept strictly segregated from each other. Consequently, the four panels of the workshop were centered around key approaches that would benefit from being in dialogue with each other. on the whole, kept tightly segregated from each other. Consequently, the four panels of the workshop were centered around key approaches that would benefit from being in dialogue. By doing so, the panels allowed leading scholars in the field to appraise the current state of research across national boundaries and academic disciplines and to bring forth new conversations and inter-regional dialogue about improving our approaches in the future development of the field. We are hoping that these interactions will help stimulate and guide future research efforts by delineating critical paths for subsequent research. The presentations addressed key aspects such as:
The development of scholarship in women’s and gender studies over the past decade, and the future directions the field might take.
The comparative state of the field of women’s and gender studies in Turkey and its neighboring countries.
The evolving position of women and gender in the contemporary societies of the region.
Policy changes, both past and present, that have shaped the status quo of women and gender.
The Conceptual Framework of the Event and Its Significance:
This workshop was groundbreaking in allowing scholars working on women’s and gender studies in the Ottoman world and modern Turkey to come together to discuss the state of the field. Despite the fact that many talented scholars work on issues related to women’s studies, gender and sexuality across the former Ottoman provinces (primarily Lebanon, Egypt, and the Balkans) as well as modern Turkey, there has rarely been academic platforms enabling scholars to focus specifically on their shared area(s) of research. Resulting from a lack of communication among scholars working on these topics, the field has therefore become compartmentalized and the current discourses remain fragmented. By convening a small-scale, highly focused event with internationally renowned speakers, this workshop seeks to bridge the communication gap and inspire new academic approaches among scholars of different nationalities and from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. The event is framed around three main academic disciplines that have informed women’s and gender studies: the humanities, the social sciences, and law. By examining the most recent developments in the state of the field, each panel contributed to a richer, more complex understanding of the field of women’s and gender studies in modern Turkey and its neighboring countries, while putting experts from each area into conversation with each other. In doing so, the workshop hopes to foster solidarities that connect common struggles beyond fixed geographic borders and academic disciplines.
Additionally, this workshop provided a platform to discuss how to compensate for the lack of an institutional infrastructure for women’s and gender studies in and around Turkey. Currently, only few major universities have established separate women’s and gender studies departments to facilitate research in this field. Instead of inaugurating a separate field of study, numerous universities have opened up centers for women’s studies by offering certificate programs for students in other academic disciplines. Women’s and gender history have only recently been recognized as a thematic subfield within history departments. Therefore, women’s and gender studies frequently lack the institutional support to tackle large-scale research questions. Hence, the workshop concluded by discussing how to best use existing resources, such as collaboration among research centers, activist organizations, and other institutions more effectively as an attempt to facilitate future growth and forms of cooperation in the field of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.
Moving forward, I am hopeful that the collaborating institutes who made this year’s workshop possible, as well as those who wish to join them, will take turns in coming years to host future iterations of the workshop. The “Mapping Gender in the Near East” project is grounded firmly in the idea that women’s, gender, and sexuality studies needs to be a collaborative endeavor, and that conversation about our disciplines, approaches, and research will play a big role in moving scholarship forward.
Earlier drafts of the poster by Gökhan Pahlı
Workshop logo designed by Gökhan Pahlı