Everyday Modernity, Urban Space and Citizenship: Public Beaches in Early Republican Istanbul

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Ohio State University. Mershon Center for International Security Studies

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After more than a decade of relative insignificance in the shadow of the new capital Ankara, the first efforts to renew Istanbul's crumbling urban infrastructure and to transform the city from an oriental, imperial capital to a modern republican city took off in the 1930s, primarily through the work of the French urban planner Henri Prost who worked for Istanbul Municipality between 1936 and 1951. In this period, urban planning became an integral dimension of the republican project of re-making the city into a theater of modern life, and its people, into modern citizens. As the most visible forms of displaying healthy bodies (especially women's bodies) in public space, promenading, swimming and dancing came to be seen as quintessentially "modern" activities. Consequently parks, beaches and gazinos (music halls) became the paradigmatic spaces of modernity representing the "opening up" of a traditional Muslim society along secular western models of mixed-gender recreation while evoking the prevailing cult of body, youth and health that had captured Europe's imagination in the interwar period. Within this broader historical context, this lecture focuses on the emergence of beaches along Istanbul's Bosporus and Marmara shores, presenting them as symbolically charged urban sites where republican notions of modernity, secularization and citizenship acquired spatial expression. Rather than reading them as unequivocal expressions of a top-down state ideology however, they will be discussed as ambivalent sites where the official republican project of modernity and "social engineering" from above came in contact with the everyday lives of ordinary Istanbulites from below.


The Ohio State University Mershon Center for International Security Studies
The media can be accessed here: http://streaming.osu.edu/knowledgebank/Mershon13/020413.mp4
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