I am a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the University of Minnesota. My research interests are comparative-historical sociology, political sociology, cultural sociology, and collective memory with a regional focus on Turkey. Specifically, I study nostalgia as a collective force, highlighting its central place within both populist political discourse and popular culture. I strongly believe that not all nostalgia is created equal, and that we need to deconstruct each case to understand “what it is made of,” and “how it works.”
My dissertation, Disentangling Contemporary Ottoman Nostalgia in Turkey: Popular and Political Forms of Collective Memory, examines the contemporary Ottoman revival. Using ethnography and interviews, my dissertation brings together state-led efforts and popular culture while investigating the response of a diverse array of non-elite Turkish citizens.
As an Interdisciplinary Fellow at the Center for Early Modern History I worked with historians to theorize the transcultural trajectory of nostalgia. I think that across the diversity of historical nostalgias, what ties nostalgia together as a social force is its strong emotional component, which helped form the post-Westphalian world order. Now, with Patricia Lorcin, and MJ Maynes I run the Interdisciplinary Nostalgia Workshop, and the affiliated blog “Theorizing Nostalgia”. During my graduate career, I have worked with the Holocaust and Genocide Center as a Badzin fellow examining Holocaust Remembrance Days in Turkey and Spain. My coauthored article—born from this research—makes an intervention to cosmopolitanization and collective memory literatures, claiming, the national legitimation is bolstered by the universal frameworks that Holocaust memory provides. Even though memory travels transnationally, the nation-state still is the most powerful translator of this past.
My work has appeared in American Journal of Cultural Sociology, Sociological Forum, and New Perspectives on Turkey. My research has been funded by the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship, Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship and the Badzin Fellowship.
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In a hazelnut-shell:
While in the early 20th century the Young Turks constructed a new nation to replace the rejected, failing, and archaic Ottoman Empire, the late 20th century saw a powerful resurgence of Ottoman history and aesthetics across both popular and political domains. The Turkish case helps us theorize the political mobilization of nostalgia as a highly salient – yet unpredictable – mechanism of state power, especially for authoritarian regimes. While neo-Ottoman nostalgia emotionally ties citizens to the state, popular culture has developed its own versions of this history. My interviews show that both state and popular versions are evaluated by an increasingly polarized Turkish population, indicating the power and limits of state-led collective memory.
In a walnut-shell:
A month before the 2016 coup attempt, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed his helicopter on “the biggest open air stage in Turkey” to celebrate the 563rd year of the conquest of Constantinople. Calling the two-million strong crowd the “grandchildren of Mehmed the Conqueror,” he promised to make Turkey one of the ten biggest economies in the world. “Enemies who are still jealous of Turkey for the conquest of Constantinople,” he said, “should be defeated on a daily basis by continuing the conquest on the economic and cultural realm, by building a new Turkey.” Why does the president of a country whose leaders have worked hard to position it as a democratic “model” in the Middle East identify himself with a medieval sultan? This simultaneous mobilization of nostalgia for 15th century Ottoman history with the promise of a “new Turkey” inspires my research questions at two levels of analysis. In the case of Turkey: Why do people clap in unison for a promise that spans the imperial past and the neoliberal present? What role does the Ottoman past play in envisioning an economically successful future, and does this promise have the same appeal for different groups of citizens? On a global level: How do contemporary authoritarian governments consolidate power through nostalgic uses of history? And how does this help us understand the contemporary revival of populist political movements? Answering these questions sheds light on more general questions about the political consequences of nostalgically inspired utopias, which help us understand other contemporary political outcomes – including Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the United States.
When Ataturk established the Turkish Republic in 1923, he dramatically rejected the Ottoman past, secularizing the country by abolishing Arabic script and banning religious attire in state institutions. Today this secularism has been replaced by an openly religious ruling political party, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, that builds legitimacy from the Ottoman past. Yet, Ottoman nostalgia reaches beyond state and party (Ergin and Karakaya 2017). Given the importance of popular culture in consolidating or undermining political power I investigate Ottoman revival in the making, treating it as a dynamic process observed in two forms: state-sponsored neo-Ottomanism observable in commemorations, public addresses and museums, and the popular Ottomania exemplified by TV series, nostalgic photo studios, theme parks and leisure activities. To unpack the ways Ottoman nostalgia is produced, mobilized and contested, I use ethnography, textual analysis and interviews. My project consists of three parts, each with a different methodological approach: 1) Ethnographic fieldwork in the Panorama History Museum of Conquest in Istanbul, and the Commemoration of the Conquest, both powerful sites of state-led neo-Ottomanism. 2) Textual analysis of the popular television show Magnificent Century, the best-known vehicle of the popular cultural Ottomanian fever, and 3) Fifty Interviews in six diverse cities, exploring how ordinary people make sense of both state-led and popular manifestations. I code my data (80 interviews and notes documenting approximately 360 hours of field work) using the ATLAS.ti qualitative discourse analysis software, which allows me to establish linkages between demographic groups and discursive clusters. Where collective memory studies usually focus on one level – state, society, or popular culture, limiting understanding of the complex interactions among them (Olick 1999, Schwartz 1991) – my project brings together state-led efforts, popular culture, and social perceptions thereof, showing how state-led efforts are contested and how different groups ‘buy in’ to these efforts to different degrees.
Holocaust Remembrance Days (HRD)
In this comparative study, Alejandro Baer and I systematically investigate the unfolding of HRD in Spain and Turkey and observe the extent to which this practice prompts an engagement with contentious domestic pasts. Is remembrance discursively linked—directly or through omissions, slips and silences—to other events, particularly to other histories and legacies of genocide and political violence in the given countries? Does remembrance of the Holocaust provide an impetus to question one’s own past, and is the ceremony permeable to the claims of different mnemonic entrepreneurs? Does the Holocaust reveal or block other histories of mass violence where the victims are local? What is the role of the nation-state in a field of memory that is increasingly cosmopolitanized, where the authority of the nation state to determine discourses about its past has progressively diminished?
Populist Rallies in United States and Turkey: Nostalgia as a Force of State Mobilization
In a comparative analysis Penny Edgell and I unpack how rallies become a focal point linking populism and nostalgia; and we ask: How does populist nostalgia work in two different political, religious, and racial contexts? We argue that, in the case of the United States, the end of “greatness” symbolizes the end of an intersection of things: the end of White Christian America, which includes a traditional orientation to gender roles and a taken-for-granted acceptance of both white supremacy and strong black/white racial boundaries; and the intervention of government to shift policy toward expanding equal rights and equal access to public and private resources across lines of gender, race, and immigrant status. That is, in the US, the intersection of religion, race, gender and politics shapes a particular form of populist nostalgia (Edgell 2017). In the Turkish case, we investigate how the elective affinity between nostalgia and populism works by creating and relying on a discourse of dual and divided histories that that furthers the constructed rift between the “people” and the “elite”. The Turkish nostalgic project assembles diverse discourses to reverse the republican rejection of the Ottoman age. Where the early republican elite drew their entitlement to govern from central Asian Turkish warriors and civilizers, the new conservative Muslim elite derives their legitimacy from the Ottoman Empire.
Work, Family & Health
As part of the Work, Family, and Health Network, I worked with Phyllis Moen and Erin Kelly to code and analyze over 400 interviews conducted with professionals and managers in a Fortune 500 firm over four years, as the firm participated in a new work redesign initiative and went through a merger. I served as the primary research assistant for this qualitative analysis, which is the centerpiece in Kelly and Moen’s new book, Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It (Princeton University Press, winter 2020). We plan to continue our collaboration by developing at least one additional paper investigating the subjective experiences of neoliberalism in the context of a global labor chain of knowledge work.
Karakaya, Yagmur. 2018. “The Conquest of Hearts: The Central Role of Ottoman Nostalgia within Contemporary Turkish Populism,” American Journal of Cultural Sociology.
(The Sociology of Culture Section’s Richard A. Peterson for Best Student Paper, Honorable Mention)
In contemporary Turkey, populism goes hand in hand with neo-Ottoman nostalgia. They make a stigmatized duo, as nostalgia is interpreted as lingering in the past and populism is deemed as the opium of the uninformed, emotional masses. In this paper, I complicate this vision through an ethnographic discourse analysis of the 2016 Conquest of Constantinople Rally, organized by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). I show how nostalgia helps boost the authenticity claim that social performances seek to achieve. In a ritualistic setting, the rally portrays a Manichean worldview predating to Ottoman times, underlines the power of the “people” against nefarious others, and is organized around a leader who is posited as a savior. By relying on forty-five in-depth interviews in five cities, I investigate the extent to which this social performance convinces the audience. Three interpretative perspectives emerged from participants’ responses: Spectacle Seekers see the rallies as a necessity and as providing emotional uplift as the state’s duty; Appraising Skeptics approve the commemoration, yet are skeptical of the authenticity of the effort; and History Guardians deem the Ottoman past as sacred and regard the AKP’s use of it as emotional manipulation.
Ergin, Murat and Yagmur Karakaya, 2017. “Between neo-Ottomanism and Ottomania: Navigating the State-led and Popular-cultural Representations of the Past,” New Perspectives on Turkey.
In contemporary Turkey, a growing interest in Ottoman history represents a change in both the official state discourse and popular culture. This nostalgia appropriates, reinterprets, decontextualizes, and juxtaposes formerly distinct symbols, ideas, objects, and histories in unprecedented ways. In this paper, we distinguish between state-led neo-Ottomanism and popular cultural Ottomania, focusing on the ways in which people in Turkey are interpellated by these two different yet interrelated discourses, depending on their social positions. As the boundary between highbrow and popular culture erodes, popular cultural representations come to reinterpret and rehabilitate the Ottoman past while also inventing new insecurities centering on historical “truth.” Utilizing in-depth interviews, we show that individuals juxtapose the popular television series Muhteşem Yüzyıl (The Magnificent Century) with what they deem “proper” history, in the process rendering popular culture a “false” version. We also identify four particular interpretive clusters among the consumers of Ottomania: for some, the Ottoman Empire was the epitome of tolerance, where different groups lived peacefully; for others, the imperial past represents Turkish and/or Islamic identities; and finally, critics see the empire as a burden on contemporary Turkey.
Karakaya, Yagmur and Alejandro Baer. “Such Hatred has never flourished on our soil”
The Politics of Holocaust Memory in Turkey and Spain” Forthcoming in Sociological Forum
In this paper we analyze local Holocaust Remembrance Day (HRD) ceremonies promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in Spain and Turkey. We investigate whether these memory practices have the potential to lead to a cosmopolitan engagement with the host countries’ own pasts. Focused on the same memorial events in highly contrasting and diverse national contexts this paper examines how supra-national memory discourses are adopted and re-interpreted within the nation-state framework. Our ethnographic observation of the commemorations and analysis of the speeches between 2011-2018 in Turkey and 2005-2018 in Spain show that the Spanish ceremony can be defined as porous and to a certain degree open to multivocality—given the participation of different mnemonic communities—while the Turkish one is sealed and does not allow for the possibility of disrupting its self-congratulatory national memory narrative. Paradoxically, in both cases, especially in Turkey, the national legitimation profiles are bolstered by the universal frameworks that Holocaust memory provides. Even though memory travels transnationally, the nation-state still is the most powerful translator of this past. This results in the rendition of pre-Holocaust nostalgic pasts as a multicultural heaven where different groups, including the Jewish community, lived in harmony.
Moen, Phyllis, Erik Kojola, Erin L. Kelly, and Yagmur Karakaya. 2016. “Men and Women Expecting to Work Longer: Do Changing Work Conditions Matter?” Work, Aging and Retirement 2, no. 3
This study investigates the effects of an organizational flexibility/support initiative on Boomers’ expectations of working longer. Most research on retirement planning is based on studies of earlier cohorts and may not capture the unique experiences of Boomers. We draw on U.S. data from the Work Family and Health Network’s randomized control study of an organizational redesign (called STAR) that offers employees greater control over when and where they work and greater supervisor support for their personal lives to investigate its relationship to the subsequent retirement expectations of 287 Boomer professionals and managers aged 50–64 in an information technology (IT) division of a large Fortune 500 corporation. We use multinomial logistic regression to assess whether being randomized to the STAR treatment is associated with Boomers expecting a later age of retiring and of exiting the workforce, as well as their subjective assessments of the probability of their working for pay at ages 65 and 67. We find that STAR predicts Boomers’ expectations of retiring later, but not expectations of age of exiting the workforce or of a postretirement encore job. Women respondents, working in the same IT jobs as men and with long tenure, nevertheless expect to retire earlier than their male colleagues. We draw on in-depth qualitative interviews to contextualize our results and promote understanding of how changes in the work environment might shape Boomers’ expectations of retirement. Findings suggest that initiatives like STAR promoting greater control and support could help organizations retain their older professional (in this case, IT) workforces.
Karakaya, Yagmur. Forthcoming in 2020. “Political Staging of Nostalgia: Neo-Ottomanism in Turkey. In Nostalgia Now: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on the Past in the Present, edited by Michael Hviid Jacobson. Routledge.
In Turkey, nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire across both popular and political domains marks a drastic shift from the early 20th century vision of history, which emphasized a sharp break with the Empire. When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the Turkish Republic in 1923, he dramatically rejected the Ottoman past, secularizing the country by abolishing Arabic script and banning religious attire in State institutions. Today, the Kemalist collective memory regime has been replaced by the neo-Ottomanism of the authoritarian populist Justice and Development Party, or the AKP. Where the Kemalists attempted to root Turkey’s origins in ethnicity rather than religion, the AKP mines Ottoman history and symbolism as a central source of legitimacy. Using the AKP’s ‘Conquest Rally’ as a case study, this chapter shows how political leaders use a distinctively-staged nostalgia for the past to consolidate power. The nostalgia observed in contemporary politics relies on a dual and divided history: a glorified past versus a crumbling present, one from which the leader in question is supposedly going to save the people. Thus, state-led neo-Ottomanist collective memory practices serve as a mechanism of socialisation that helps emotionally attach citizens to the state.
Karakaya, Yagmur. “Nostalgia as an Analytical Tool Applied to Turkey’s Relationship with Its Past” (manuscript available, in preparation for American Journal of Sociology)
Gowan, Teresa and Yagmur Karakaya. “Drinking the Other? Addiction Management in HBO’s True Blood” (manuscript available, in preparation for British Journal of Sociology)
Cities and Social Change, SOC 3451W, UMN
What makes a space urban? How can we make sense of urbanism? How are cities different than the countryside, how are they interlinked? We will start our summer-long journey with these questions that have informed scholars of the urban, people who both theorized about and influenced the making of cities. In order to make sense of the urban phenomenon we will historicize it, as social scientists usually do. We will look at the idea of the polis, following it in medieval European towns and industrial cities. Reading visions of architects and designers will help us investigate the link between modernity, modernism, and cities, as well as the suburban dream and its critiques. Before the midterm we will see how people, who will of course be raced, classed and gendered fit in our historicized model of cities and discuss how our backgrounds influence, and contribute to the urban experience. In the second half, we will do some weaving and connect the world by looking at global cities, unequal urban development, and deconstruct the notion of development itself, through the cases of Turkey and Brazil. Lastly, we will tackle with gentrification, city as a space of consumption, and nostalgia.
Co-Instructor with Teresa Gowan
Social Theory, SOC 3701, UMN
Social theory helps us to make sense of the world we inhabit, revealing core logics of development, change, meaning and domination which structure the messy human experience. This class works closely with texts by a handful of great theorists who have created particularly illuminating, even world-changing ways of seeing. Reading extracts from Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Gramsci, DuBois, De Beauvoir, Fanon, Patricia Hill Collins, Foucault, Stuart Hall and Baudrillard we will concentrate on readings around notions of power: economic, racist, colonial, patriarchal, bureaucratic, and discursive. This course will improve your ability to think and read critically, able to better recognize and evaluate assumptions underlying “common sense” statements about how societies work. We will closely read excerpts from the original texts, and study empirical research which benefit from these theories. This will help us link the seemingly old theories to pressing contemporary issues. Be ready to ponder what Marx has to say about gentrification, how Gramsci would react to Colin Kaepernick, and what Weber has to say about the power of your work ethic.
Teaching Assistant, Section Leader
Global Modernity, the Nation State, and Capitalism, GLOS 3145
Fall 2012 – Spring 2013
White Collar Crime, SOC 4135, UMN
Social Theory SOC 3701W, UMN
Fall 2010 – Spring 2012
Teaching Assistant, Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey
Turkish Society in Comparative Perspective, Culture and Society in the Ottoman Empire, Modern History, Labor History of the Late Ottoman Empire and Early Republican Turkey, Comparative Urban History.