Renegotiating and Reclaiming Cultural Citizenship in Everyday Social and Linguistics Practices in Hatay: A Case Study of the Arab Alawite Community in the District of Defne

Author: José Rafael Medeiros Coelho (Department of Critical and Cultural Studies, Bogazici University, Turkey)
Speaker: José Rafael Medeiros Coelho
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2020 General Session


The new metropolitan municipality system law no.6360 was put into practice in 2014 as the result of the AKP (Justice and Development Party)’s decentralization reform (Bayraktar & Massicard, 2012) in Turkey. The AKP’s new gerrymandering practice has not only fostered the re-emergence of new localisms and transnationalisms (Pardo & Prato, 2011) in Hatay, but also has raised new urban issues regarding the legitimacy of local and national discourses of language and identity (Byrd Clark, 2009) in the daily lives’ of the bilingual Arab Alawite population of the district of Defne. In this context, Defne is a new ethnically segregated district that has been crafted out of some of the main central neighborhoods of Antioch’s previous town planning (Üçecam Karagel, 2018). Therefore, the aim of this research is to demonstrate how the local Arab Alawite population of Defne, renegotiates and reclaims the legitimacy of its local and cultural citizenship during everyday social and linguistics practices. Likewise, this study also purports to contribute to the literature gap on the fields of urban and linguistic anthropology in Turkey and to underpin the relevance of further ethnographic studies focusing on the Arab Alawite communities in Hatay. Furthermore, this study has taken a post-structuralist and an interactionist perspective that provided the required theoretical flexibility for undertaking a multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, by blending different qualitative approaches, such as participant-observational techniques, based in-depth interviews, discourse analysis, and conversational analysis. The fieldwork research was done in Defne, during the first ten months of 2019. In a total thirty people living in Defne were interviewed, each interview took in average two hours. As general findings of this ethnographic inquiring is possible to generalize that due to AKP’s decentralization reform and national discourses of language and identity (Navaro-Yashin, 2012; White, 2012), the Arab Alawite population living in Defne fears not only to lose their cultural and linguistic citizenship’s heritage to assimilation but also for having lost their legitimacy over their rights to the title of native citizens of Antioch. In the case, Defne appears as a new discursive urban setting for the Arab Alawite community’s contestation of their cultural identity (Hall,1990) and right to the city (Lefebvre, 1968). To conclude, the Arab Alawites are engaging collectively as a new municipality power and as aware citizens renegotiating and reclaiming their cultural citizenship by speaking their native language in everyday social and linguistic practices within their families, community and shared urban spaces.

Keywords: Arab Alawite, Defne, Cultural citizenship, Linguistic citizenship, linguistic boundaries, language ideology, Hatay