Capitalism, Desperation and Urgency: How Do Working Class Youth Cope With the Capitalist Present?

 Deniz Yonucu, London School of Economics, European InstituteDeniz Yonucu is currently a visiting scholar at London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her PhD Degree from the Department of Anthropology at Cornell in May 2014. Funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Middle East Research Competition of the Ford Foundation, her dissertation, titled, Operations Of Law And Sovereignty From Below: Youth, Violence And Disorder In Urban Turkey, focuses on Alevi populated working class neighborhoods in Istanbul andanalyzes the complex relationship between law, violence, crime and sovereignty in Turkey. She holds two MA degrees in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and in Sociology from Bogazici University. Her research focuses on anti-terror law, the criminalization of and marginalization of working class youth, processes of depoliticization, sites of urban segregation and violence, and legal and extra-legal policing/security practices. She has published a number of articles and opinion pieces related to these areas of research.

Her articles are available at



Abstract: In this article[1], drawing on my research in Hasköy and Güzeltepe[2] which once used to be organized working class neighborhoods of Istanbul, I will discuss the effects of contemporary capitalism on working class youth and certain forms of responses they devise in face of this. More specifically, I will explore the ways in which Hasköy and Güzeltepe youth’s struggle against social and economic exclusion is shaped by a sense of urgency –sometimes at the expense of their future– as exemplified in the reaction of the young man who finds an alternative way to enter the mall at the expense of his body. Both Hasköy and Güzeltepe were important headquarters for the pre-1980 revolutionary socialist movements. Both have been affected by the economic and social changes following the 1980 military coup in different, as well comparable ways. Upon briefly touching on the history of these two neighborhoods and the transformation processes they underwent after 1980, I will try to explore the reaction of the neighborhoods’ youth to this transformation by looking at the ways in which they use the streets. I will discuss how the street is used by youth as a stage and a performance space and analyze how these young people exhibit themselves on the stage/street, pointing at the sense of urgency in these “spectacle.”

Keywords: Young people, capitalism, Hasköy, Güzeltepe, Istanbul, Turkey.



In July 2003, an incident took place in Hasköy, Istanbul that was newsworthy, even though it was not in the papers: 5 young men around the ages16-17 want to enter the new shopping mall that opened in their neighborhood. However, the security guard, who is also a resident of the same neighborhood, does not let them enter as per his instructions. Because according to the mall management the youth of the neighborhood are “dangerous.” The young men get angry and an argument ensues at the entrance. Among the group, a young man of 16 is exasperated with being denied entrance, and as his friends are arguing with the guard, he begins to run back and forth to crash into the large glass shop window. At his third strike, the glass shatters and the young man succeeds in entering the mall alongside the glass cutting his body. In this article, drawing on my research in Hasköy and Güzeltepe[3] which once used to be organized working class neighborhoods of Istanbul, I will discuss the effects of contemporary capitalism on working class youth and certain forms of responses they devise in face of this. More specifically, I will explore the ways in which Hasköy and Güzeltepe youth’s struggle against social and economic exclusion is shaped by a sense of urgency –sometimes at the expense of their future– as exemplified in the reaction of the young man who finds an alternative way to enter the mall at the expense of his body.

Both Hasköy and Güzeltepe were important headquarters for the pre-1980 revolutionary socialist movements. Both have been affected by the economic and social changes following the 1980 military coup in different, as well comparable ways. Upon briefly touching on the history of these two neighborhoods and the transformation processes they underwent after 1980, I will try to explore the reaction of the neighborhoods’ youth to this transformation by looking at the ways in which they use the streets. I will discuss how the street is used by youth as a stage and a performance space and analyze how these young people exhibit themselves on the stage/street, pointing at the sense of urgency in these “spectacle.” In this article I will primarily focus on three different types of performance: 1.Walking around with new brand clothes as a manifestation of the desire to resemble the middle class. This mode of appearance on the street will be discussed under the theme of capitalism and the production of desire. 2. Young people from Hasköy who walk around middle class streets at night, deliberately striking fear in the middle class and taking pleasure in it. Hasköy’s youth portraying themselves as threatening/frightening bodies in middle class streets will be discussed in reference to class identity and the manifestations of rage. 3. The relatively small, pirate demonstrations involving Molotov cocktails and/or street confrontations in Güzeltepe. These demonstrations will also be analyzed in the context of manifestations of rage against capitalism.


Hasköy and Güzeltepe: A Brief History

Hasköy was founded as a squatter [gecekondu] neighborhood towards the end of the 1940s by migrants coming from rural areas to the city. A number of the large factories that were built in Istanbul in the late 1940s in the scope of national development policies were in the vicinity of Hasköy. The proximity of factories and houses, the strengthening of union organizations at the factories and the rising leftist movement in Turkey after the 1950s, quickly transformed Hasköy into a typical working class neighborhood. In this period, Hasköy streets witnessed marches in support of workers on strike, protests against high prices and unemployment, as well as conflicts between rightist and leftist groups.

           Güzeltepe Neighborhood was founded almost 30 years after Hasköy under the leadership of revolutionaries. The majority of the population in the neighborhood has been Alevis[4] since its foundation. From the mid 1970s until the 1980 coup, the neighborhood was governed autonomously under the control of revolutionary organizations. The principle of dividing land based on need was adopted at the foundation of the neighborhood realized entirely through collective communal work. Before 1980, the streets of Güzeltepe witnessed both collective struggle against the demolition of squatter houses, and collective production. At the same time, as in Hasköy, the neighborhood streets were the sites of many political marches. Until the end of the 1990s, numerous collective demonstrations supported by local businesses and the majority of the neighborhood population were organized on the streets.

At a time when squatter neighborhoods were regarded as the biggest obstacle before urban development by the urban elite in Turkey, and residents of squatter houses and thus the urban working class were regarded as “backward” villagers, workers from both Hasköy and Güzeltepe earned respectability due to their working class identities.[5] While some workers from Hasköy and Güzeltepe actively participated in the organized labor movement to build a more just future, others, though not directly an organized part of this movement, still became workers within the atmosphere of a promising future generated by the working class and/or socialist movement. Thus, it would not be inaccurate to say that until the 1980s, workers in Turkey had both a respectable status and a dream and/or hope of redemption in this world.

However, after 1980, and especially by the mid 1990s, workers in Turkey began losing their esteemed status, as well as their hopes for the future. The primary reasons for this include the economic and social atmosphere instigated by the 1980 military coup and the violent repression of the leftist movement that had begun to re-emerge in working class neighborhoods with a history of organized left by the 1990s.


The 80s and 90s

As has been extensively discussed, the economic liberalization policies following the 1980 coup caused the organized labor force to work under unorganized, insecure and flexible conditions. While workers were rapidly excluded from the formal labor market, the constant promotion of consumer culture began to underline poverty and impoverishment in a more defined way. The fact that consumption as opposed to production assumed a central role in identity construction and ensuring respectability, contributed significantly to the loss of the respectable status created/earned through being a worker during the pre-1980s.[6] Again at this time, the violent repression of the socialist movement led to the deterioration of the hope for “heaven”/justice on earth among the working class. However, the socialist/revolutionary movement re-emerging in particular in working class neighborhoods of large cities in the 1990s suggests that this hope was not destroyed entirely with the 1980 coup. As opposed to the 1980s, in the1990s, the rising socialist movement and the Kurdish movement –which also began to express itself in the urban sphere following the forced migration from villages– were repressed by state violence targeting specific places (working class neighborhoods, neighborhoods defined as “liberated zones” before 1980, neighborhoods populated largely by Alevis) rather than all segments of society. In other words, state violence was concentrated in specific territories to repress the rising left in the 1990s.[7] For instance, the common emphasis of residents who describe the state of Güzeltepe in the 1990s is that at the time the neighborhood transformed into a semi-open prison. In this period, in addition to Güzeltepe, working class neighborhoods such as Gülsuyu, Gazi, Armutlu, 1 Mayıs Mahallesi, Okmeydanı largely populated by an urban Alevi and leftist population also transformed into neighborhoods where there was constant police surveillance. Identity checks were performed upon people entering and exiting these neighborhoods, people were arrested arbitrarily and at times people disappeared or were killed in unresolved murders. These neighborhoods, which sometimes even the public buses avoided because they were “dangerous,” turned into spaces where anything could happen any time. While this attributed danger led them to become detached from other segments of society and isolated them from the rest of the city, this isolation further facilitated the practice of violence in these neighborhoods as it enabled the confinement of violence to the neighborhood.

A picture of Güzeltepe in the 1990s emerging from the accounts of over 30 people I interviewed in the neighborhood can be described as follows: On the one hand a series of mass street demonstrations on numerous current political issues ranging from Palestine to the economy, from the hunger strikes in prisons to the problem of education are taking place; on the other hand, police forces with the power to take anyone from the neighborhood at any time are raiding associations and coffee houses with long barreled weapons, and occasionally displaying tortured bodies in the neighborhood to show what they are capable of. In short, in the 1990s, in working class neighborhoods with leftist backgrounds, the cruising white Renault cars [used by plainclothes cops], disappearing people, unresolved assassinations, incidents like those at Gazi and 1 Mayıs neighborhoods in 1995 where shots were fired at residents resulting in deaths, led to a renewed blow on the rekindling hope for the future. In other words, in the 1990s the police forces of the state threatened the re-flourishing hope of a better world.

In terms of the history of squatter neighborhoods, the 1990s has another significance frequently pointed out by Turkish academicians: In the 1990s the working class/squatter neighborhoods were redefined. Terms such as “slum” [varoş] and “other Turkey”/“other Istanbul,” that went into circulation in the mid 1990s in reference to old squatter neighborhoods, began to be define them as spaces that were not and could never be a part of the imaginary “real” or “normal” Turkey. People living in these places began to be represented as dangerous, uncivilized, even savage and ready to strike at any given moment (Aksoy 2001, Akçay 2005, Etöz 2000, Erman 2001). I would like to characterize this period as a time when the tension between being the subject of politics and objects of anthropology (cultural other) was experienced most intensely in the history of Turkey’s squatter neighborhoods. There are two incidents in which this tension was manifested most blatantly: One is the 1995 Gazi Neighborhood incidents, the second is May 1st 1996. At the Gazi incident an armed group opened fire on a coffee house frequented mostly by Alevis and killed an Alevi dede [elder, spiritual leader].[8] The next day Gazi Neighborhood turned into a war zone. Conflict ensued between the police and neighborhood residents. As a result of the police attack supported by special ops forces, 15 people died. When we look at the representations of this incident in the newspapers, Gazi Neighborhood is almost a novel discovery for the media. The media has discovered the “slum” that is utterly different from other spaces in the city. They ask: “Who are these people? Is this Istanbul? How can such a place be a part of Istanbul?”[9] Looking at newspaper articles on the Gazi incident published at the time, it seems like they are written almost under enchantment. The middle class and urban journalists have been forced to encounter people completely unlike themselves –or at least perceived as such– in this part of the city they have never had to go to, that they have always heard about from a distance. This state of enchantment masks the political struggle, political discourse and demands of the people living in Gazi, since attention is not focused on what is said, but rather on the interlocutor and the presumed cultural difference. For example, Yalçın Doğan titles his article about Gazi, which he goes to see immediately at the aftermath of the events, “The Outcome of Different Identity, Different Culture” and asks in awe: “Slums are different worlds, I understood when I came here these are different worlds. Is this Istanbul? Will this place integrated into Europe? Is this place in Istanbul?”[10] As can be discerned from the title of the article, for Doğan what is in essence visible is the “difference” of Gazi neighborhood and what underlies the incident is precisely this cultural difference.

Another striking event in which political actions and demands were undermined just as in the case of Gazi incidents is the May 1st demonstrations in 1996. On May 1996, before the march started, conflict ensued in the demonstration area and two young people were killed. Subsequently the conflict spread to the entire area. However, what was picked up by the news was not the killing of two people but the image of two young women plucking tulips. The incident was depicted in the media as people coming down from the mountains, refusing to be civilized (there is a headline “slum dwellers came down to the city,” for instance[11]) and butchering tulips (Akçay 2005). Again in the same atmosphere of enchantment and awe, the question was: “How can we live in the same city with these people who don’t even respect flowers?” The fact that a rather large May 1st demonstration was organized after the 1980 coup regime; the significance of May 1st; what brought so many people together for the occasion; the death of two young men were barely mentioned or discussed.[12]

So this is the environment the youth of today were born to in Güzeltepe and Hasköy in the late 80s and early 90s. The youth in Hasköy, where the leftist movement lost its influence much earlier, towards the mid 1980s, were born not in a working class neighborhood with a collective liberation project on the rise, but rather in a neighborhood defined as the other Istanbul, both ostracized and criminalized as slums. More significantly, they grew up with the awareness that their neighborhood was defined and degraded as a slum and its residents were regarded as uncivilized people. The youth born in Güzeltepe in the same period grew up witnessing police violence that had become a part of everyday life in the neighborhood. They witnessed their older sisters, brothers being beaten on the street by the police and left in pools of blood. They witnessed police bullets and gas bombs flying in the air. They went to their schools regularly guarded by tanks, passing by masked police standing guard with their long barreled weapons at the street corners.

Desire and Rage

In the remaining part of this article, I will try to discuss the subjectivities of the youth in Hasköy and Güzeltepe Neighborhoods shaped in face of the transformations enumerated above in the framework of the dynamics of rage and desire. While doing so, I will exclude the experiences of the Kurdish youth who live in both neighborhoods because these young people, who came to the city after 1990 with forced migration, relate to the city and the country differently from youth whose parents were born in squatter neighborhoods. Furthermore, the existence of an organized Kurdish movement also distinguishes the experience of Kurdish youth from that of the other working class young people. Since I did not encounter any young people who support the Islamic movement or define themselves as followers of political Islam in either neighborhood, I will also exclude young people supporting political Islam from the analysis below and primarily focus on the subjectivities of youth born to secular and leftist families.[13]


In the early 2000s, shopping malls began to open at some of Istanbul’s working class neighborhoods. Hasköy is one of these neighborhoods. The mall at Hasköy contributed significantly both to the production among Hasköy youth a desire to be like the middle class and also rendered this desire very visible. With these new shopping malls, young people in Hasköy, who, thanks to the media, could envision how the middle class regarded them, that is those living in the “slums,” suddenly had to battle the ostracizing, discriminatory, degrading gaze of the middle class[14] not just in middle class urban spaces, but also in their own neighborhood. The imagined or real middle class gaze that entered the neighborhood with the mall triggered the desire to be like the middle class among the youth of Hasköy. The mode in which the desire to be like the middle class is manifested most frequently is imitating the consumer habits of the middle class, in particular the their dressing codes. Most of the people I interviewed said that young people began to wear designer label clothes after the mall opened. After the mall, the streets of Hasköy began to turn into spaces where class identity, rather than being pronounced loud and clear, was concealed as something embarrassing in an attempt to resemble the other, i.e. the presumed “normal.” For instance two of the youth I interviewed express this desire to conceal their identities as follows:

“Whenever I have to go out without new brand clothes I always walk with my head down. Because if people see me dressed like that they will make fun of me… To be honest, when I see people without designer clothes I look at them with scorn. For example, I never go to the mall with regular clothes; people should know how to dress in places like these.” (age 17)


“People come to the mall not just from here, but also from Ataköy; they come from Bakırköy, also Yeşilköy. This has changed the people here. Hasköy youth who see those with money try to keep up with them and pay more attention to their clothes, their shoes. They become wannabes, that is, they say, these guys come like this, let’s also hang out like this. They become picky about their clothes as they are going out.” (age 21)


As can be discerned from the excerpts above, one of the strategies devised by Hasköy youth to avoid being “slum dwellers” or the lower class is to dress up like the middle class and to imitate them. That is to say, to look for a way that will urgently and immediately shake the ostracizing gaze that disturbs them. The effort to look like a member of the middle class even though one is not middle class actually indicates the incredible violence embodied in the ostracizing gaze directed at those bodies that do not belong to the middle class in Turkey. This gaze is so violent that it forces those young people whose bodies do not resemble middle class bodies to avert their eyes and walk looking down[15] or to conceal their class identity and dress up like someone else. That is to say that it compels youth to immediately, urgently devise a means of struggle against this gaze.


While capitalism and capitalist ideology produce a desire to be like the consumer middle class deemed as “normal,” the impossibility of satisfying this desire, the reality that no matter how much one strives to imitate it middle class life style will never be attained also generates a serious rage. Because Hasköy youth is not only ostracized discursively, they are also excluded from labor processes.[16] Thus they know that they will not be able to attain middle class standards one day by working very hard. One of the principal reasons underlying the rage against the middle class is this awareness. At the same time, while they are working under very harsh conditions for very low wages, the consumer middle class shopping carefree at the mall further provokes the rage of Hasköy youth. As one young man conveys:

“Purse snatching, theft is very common here. And also, this is very determinant: not being able to afford things. People say, we work, we get paid 300 million a month, 200 of which our family will take for sure, shall we buy cigarettes or clothes with the rest? A pair of pants costs 50-60 million. Even those of us who work periodically, we say among ourselves, well, we can’t buy even though we work, what can be done? Now, a guy comes to the mall, he buys 5-6 pairs of pants, each 100 million. The young man says, I can’t afford pants for 20 million, he buys pants for 100 million. This inadvertently encourages him. Some work their ass off, others spend without a care, how can they spend so carefree? Whose money is this? Whose scheme, whose plot? Before the mall no one knew about designer labels here. What can one do, you’re young, you aspire to them. If he has it why don’t I? That’s what you think.” (age 23)

One of the spaces where the rage against the middle class is manifested is streets inhabited by the middle class. Hasköy youth, who now encounter the (imagined or real) ostracizing gaze of the middle class even on their own streets, transform into dangerous bodies striking fear on the streets they reside in turn. For example a young man from Hasköy who spends the occasional money he gets his hands on in one night at bars[17] in Taksim where middle class youth hang out, describes this state of striking fear as:

“Hasköy, Karagümrük, Gaziosmanpaşa, Kocamustafapaşa, these four are on the police black list. These are the places with most cops. Here there are plainclothes cops at every corner […]. These are also places where murders are committed most frequently. That’s what the young learn from the older. And yet despite this, the Hasköy youth does not readily give in to the police. I mean tough guys come out of Hasköy. And they’re known anywhere. Theft, cars, houses… In Bakırköy, Ataköy, the Hasköy kid harasses all bourgeois neighborhoods; he enters from the window at night, I mean he enters anywhere he can find.” (age 23)

Another youth who makes sure to walk around in designer clothes all the time explains how he fearlessly walks around middle class streets at night when the middle class is afraid to go out:

“Of course they look down on us, because we are a poor neighborhood, but we also look down on their youth. Because they are bourgeois. You throw a Hasköy boy among 50 monsters; he’ll walk out in one piece. Throw a Bakırköy boy in one glass of water, he will drown there. The Hasköy kid is not afraid of anything, but the Bakırköy boy, if the electricity goes out, he shouts “help mom.” For us, sun, moon no difference. To put it very simply, Ataköy, come 8 or 9, you see not a soul on the street. But I walk around Ataköy at 3 o’clock at night. So you see, the Hasköy kid is a rebel, a wildcat, hot shot. I mean a guy in Bakırköy, let him be the most dangerous of fellows, to me he’s nothing. He’s from Bakırköy, that’s it, segregated, excluded, raised in a bourgeois district, with a bourgeois mind. Neighborhoods like ours are Kasımpaşa, Kulaksız, Beyoğlu, Tarlabaşı, Dolapdere, Sarıgöl, Gaziosmanpaşa. Has to be a bastard of a neighborhood, cause it is the same mentality.” (age 21)

Hasköy youth, who are not considered a part of normal Turkey, who are excluded both from the labor market and the imaginary urban culture, return to the middle class spaces they are cast out from like boomerangs to scare off the middle class. As can be discerned from the above quoted statements, there is a pleasure derived from this state of evoking fear; it allows for a temporary expression and satisfaction of class rage. Unlike the past, currently class struggle manifests itself not collectively at city squares, but as a menacing ghost secretly treading in the back streets. The inexistence of the material conditions necessary to satisfy the desire to be like the middle class, and the absence of an organized working class movement that can present a future perspective which can transform rage into a productive energy, lead to the further marginalization of youth and to a loss of hope for the future. In other words, the lack of a vision of liberation/future both in the personal and in the social sense, leads the Hasköy youth to fluctuate between the dynamic of desire and hate familiar to us from the colonial context.[18]

In a world shaped according to consumer middle class norms, Hasköy youth, who are very much aware of the fact that unless they exhibit this consumerism in their bodies and life practices, they won’t earn respect and will be subject to ostracizing, othering words/gazes, seek salvation in trying to be like the middle class. They do this not just by imitating the way members of the middle class dress, but also by adopting the middle class gaze as can be seen in the first quote above, or by going to the bars/clubs middle class youth frequent and having/trying to have fun there. Even though undertaking certain life practices of the middle class allows Hasköy youth to occasionally experience the fantasy of passing[19]/becoming middle class, the confines of financial opportunities and the history of their class engraved on their bodies constantly remind them where they come from. When the middle class youth leaves the bars/clubs they enter paying a fortune by their own standards, saying the “slum dwellers are here”; when they are turned away from malls they go to for shopping on the grounds that they are deemed “dangerous”; when they are subject to ostracizing behavior at stores they do manage to enter they are repeatedly reminded that it is nearly impossible to attain the desired social status and trying to be like the middle class and not being able to do so generates considerable rage. Thus as being a member of the middle class becomes a position that is desired, aspired to, it also turns into a position stirring emotions of rage/hate as a constant reminder of a shortcoming, a lack.

In Güzeltepe, still known as a neighborhood populated by socialists, the rage of youth is less complex and more direct compared to Hasköy. Here the resistance against capitalism does not manifest itself over a complex emotional relationship with the middle class, but rather through being directly opposed to capitalism and demanding a more just and equal world. While one of the first things we recall when we think of Hasköy today are shopping malls, when one thinks about Güzeltepe streets, three things immediately come to mind: 1-Graffitti – graffiti on the walls entailing the political demands of tens of different revolutionary organizations, 2-Small tanks –or as they are referred to in the neighborhood jargon, scorpions– doing constant surveillance on the streets, 3-Surveillance cameras installed at central points throughout the neighborhood. While the visibility of consumer culture dominates Hasköy, what is most visible in Güzeltepe today is state security forces. The state violence the neighborhood was subject to at various periods throughout its history still remains prevalent. With its scorpions, cameras and plainclothes cops, the state constantly says “I am here, I am watching you and I can exert violence any time.” This keeps the rage against state violence alive, while also evoking fear in the neighborhood residents. What’s more, there is an increasing unemployment in Güzeltepe and a lessening hope for a better future.

When we look at the manifestation of this rage on the street, we see that there has been a shift since the early 2000s. Demonstrations, which used to be organized with the collaboration of various revolutionary organizations, have been replaced for the most part by marginal, more aggressive demonstrations by small groups. In addition to the mass demonstrations in Güzeltepe organized for Newroz or the anniversary of Gazi incidents, we now frequently encounter pirate demonstrations of 10-15 people. These demonstrations are usually undertaken by youth in masks aged between 15 and 18, attacking the main street from the side streets with Molotov cocktails in their hands, using garbage containers as barricades and fighting with the police. The violent aspect of the demonstrations that temporarily turn the neighborhood into a war zone leads to a double marginalization: of the youth and political organizations by the neighborhood residents, and the neighborhood itself by other segments of society in turn. By drawing attention to the form/style of the realization of the demonstrations, such actions render invisible and conceal the political demands, that is the content of the demonstrations. As is, the street transforms into a space where youth momentarily display their anger and then retreat behind the curtains. The presence of people gathering at street corners, watching the demonstrators and occasionally applauding them gives the onlooker the impression that these demonstrations are taking place on a theater stage.


The sense of urgency in the manifestations of desire and rage in Güzeltepe echoes the need for immediate gratification of desire and rage in Hasköy. Hasköy youth, who want to belong to the middle class but remain aware of the impossibility of the satisfaction of this desire, experience a temporary satisfaction when they go out on the street/stage as if they are middle class, yet have to confront their actual financial and material conditions when they return home with their bodies they have dressed up with a middle class look. Again, when in a similar sense of urgency they convey the rage they feel for the middle class with momentary outbursts (for example harassing the passersby on the streets of Bakırköy, Ataköy, scratching their cars, etc.) only to swiftly retreat, they are subject to the violence of capitalism in their everyday lives. The feelings of rage and admiration[20] Hasköy youth feel for the middle class leads to a further marginalization of these young people due to the difficulty of satisfying this desire and rage through legal means. As for the youth in Güzeltepe, their display of their rage on the street at small demonstrations deemed marginal by neighborhood residents and their subsequent retreats leads not only to the marginalization of youth in the eyes of the neighborhood, but also results in harsh prosecutions, jail sentences, or youth being wounded or even killed[21] by police bullets, since such demonstrations take place in a neighborhood under constant police surveillance. So why do these young people express their rage against capitalism and desire to build a better world with such demonstrations?

In both cases, the manner in which youth express their desires and rage –by exhibiting themselves on the street like a member of the middle class, a revolutionary hero, or a menacing body and then withdrawing backstage (to their “real” lives)– is actually directly related to the absence of an imagination of the future. A number of the young people I interviewed both in Güzeltepe and in Hasköy responded to the question “where do you see yourself in 10 years?” by saying “I don’t know if I will still be alive in 10 years” precisely because of this impossibility of imagining the future.

In his book Wasted Lives, where sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (2004) presents an analysis of contemporary capitalism, he states that the present day youth has taken out waiting from wanting. Because according to Bauman in the consumer society of today waiting has become a source of shame. “The shame of waiting rebounds on the one who waits. Waiting is something to be ashamed of because it may be noted or taken as evidence of indolence or low status, seen as a symptom of rejection or a signal to exclude” (109). In the present day society where consumer goods, information, places, people and even dreams are regarded/promoted as merely a key, a computer screen, a shop window away, the slum youth, who are criminalized and excluded from the imagination of normal Turkey and have even been constructed as the other of this imagination; for whom the distance between themselves and their desires and dreams remain nearly impossible to travel, want to urgently attain these dreams nonetheless.[22] These young people who are very much aware of the fact that they are unable to earn respectability through their current social identity, try to deal with the rejection and exclusion they are subject to by immediately gratifying their desires. However, as I have tried to convey throughout the article, this effort to urgently discard their social identity leads to a further marginalization of the youth.

Youth in Hasköy who witness their parents being crushed in the same cycle of poverty for years, know that no good comes from waiting, from being patient in this world where poverty is scorned at. Or some of the young people in Güzeltepe who have observed their sisters, mothers, fathers spend years in prison, being killed, tortured, have given up on waiting and want to show their reaction immediately. While such intense injustice reproduces the desire to abolish this injustice more strongly, the expression of the revolt against this injustice with sudden acts of resistance serves to increase the youth population in prisons. While capitalism does not offer any promises for the future for working class youth, the inexistence of an organized working class movement prompts the fear of being futureless to grow even deeper.



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Yonucu, Deniz. 2009. A Story of a Squatter Neighborhood: From the place of the dangerous classes to the place of danger. Berkeley Journal of Sociology No. 52.


[1] I would like to thank Eylem Akçay for his feedback to an earlier version of this article which has been published previously in red thread journal.

[2] The names of the neighborhoods in which this research was conducted have been changed in this article to prevent any prejudice and to protect the privacy of those participating in the research. Hasköy and Güzeltepe are code names used instead of the real names of the neighborhoods.

[3] The names of the neighborhoods in which this research was conducted have been changed in this article to prevent any prejudice and to protect the privacy of those participating in the research. Hasköy and Güzeltepe are code names used instead of the real names of the neighborhoods.

[4] Alevism is a sect of Islam and Alevi population is a minority in Turkey. Alevis are known for their support for progressivist and leftist politics.

[5] During a field research I conducted in one of the working class neighborhoods in İstanbul, I realized that the rising socialist movement in Turkey in the 1960s and 1970s had a respect generating effect among the working class, regardless of whether they supported the movement or not. For example, in an interview I conducted with retired workers, a worker from a leather factory at Kazlıçeşme, where there was an organized socialist presence, related how one day as he was doing his shopping in Sirkeci, he realized that people around him noticed the smell of leather on him. When I asked him, “Did this disturb you?”, he responded, “Disturbed? Not at all! On the contrary I was very proud people noticed I was a leather worker.” The labor and union movement of the time not only told the working class that poverty was nothing to be ashamed of, furthermore, regarding workers as the primary subject of the struggle to build a just and equal world, contributed to the establishment of a respectable worker identity. We could also assert that the songs of Cem Karaca, one of the socialist vocals of the time, with worker protagonists and praising labor and workers were both an indicator of how working class identity was highly esteemed and also contributed directly to the construction of this identity as such. For respectability earned through class status for workers in Turkey before 1980 and their participation in the socialist movement see: Aslan 2004, Kaya 2005, Yonucu 2005. For respectability earned through labor per se see: Sennett 1998, 2003.

[6]For the effect of consumer culture on working class identity see: Bauman 1997, 2004, 2005, Comaroff and Comarroff 2000, Sennett 2005.

[7] We could argue that state policy towards the Kurdish national liberation movement rising around the same time assumed a similar shape. Confining the violence to the officially declared “State of Exception” region prevented those living in other places in Turkey from learning about the intensity of the violence experienced in the region In this way the region was isolated and its ties with the rest of the country were severed.

[8] For a detailed account of the incident see: Dural 2005.

[9] For an analyis of news featuring the slums in the media in this period, please see: Aksoy 2001.

[10] Milliyet, March 15 1995.

[11] Yeni Yüzyıl, 2 May 1996.

[12]At the II. International congress organized in Paris in 1889, May 1st was declared the “International Day for Solidarity and Struggle.” Countries throughout the world started celebrating it beginning in 1890. May 1st was celebrated in Turkey for the first time in İzmir in 1905, and over the past century the celebrations have at times been met with the ban or restrictions of the political powers. In Turkey, May 1st is also known as the “Workers Day.”

[13] For a study of working class neighborhoods where political Islam is dominant, please see: Tuğal 2011.

[14] Here, I am not claiming that everyone from the middle classes looks at Hasköy youth in the same way. This gaze can be real, or it can be a projection of Hasköy youth. What is more significant here is how Hasköy youth homogonize the middle class and think that these people look at them in an ostracizing manner.

[15] Even though it remains beyond the scope of this article, I wanted to mention an anecdote because of the striking similarity: As we were getting on the subway with a Jamaican worker friend in New York, I was surprised to see him put on sunglasses and asked him why he did that. He said that he found the way white Americans looked at him disturbing, so he put on sunglasses and thus avoided meeting their gazes. The intensity and historical burden that forces a young woman in Hasköy to walk around with her head down when she’s not wearing new brand clothes to avoid middle class gazes and a Jamaican worker who puts on sunglasses even on the subway to avoid the racist gaze of white Americans is worth contemplating.

[16] Most of the youth I interviewed worked at leather or textile workshops at very low wages. Temporary or permanent unemployment, and work without social security and with low wages was rather common among Hasköy and Güzeltepe youth in early 2000s, as it still is today.

[17] Of course young people from “slums” going to bars/clubs frequented by middle class youth creates a tension. For the discomfort of middle class youth related to young people from the “slums” going to these bars/clubs, see: “Clubber’dan ‘kıro’ber’a”, 18 April, 2004, Milliyet.

[18] One of the most significant writers of postcolonial literature, Homi Bhabha, argues that the dynamic of the simultaneous attraction to and hatred of the colonizer is one of the primary constituents of subjectivities in colonial countries. See: Bhabha 1993. Bhabha was inspired by the arguments of Fanon, who was both a theoretician and a militant of the anti-colonialist movement and explored the desire and efforts of colonized black people to become white in his work Black Skin White Masks (1952).

[19] The concept of passing has been conceptualized by Fanon. In his article “The Spectacle of the Other,” Stuart Hall (1997) refers to Fanon and describes how black people adopt white people’s values and dress and act like them in order to pass from being black to white. Because, according to Hall, becoming white/passing as white is only possible through entirely detaching oneself from black culture and being assimilated into the white world.

[20] An admiration instigated by the desire to be like them.

[21]To give one example, a 15 year-old middle school student was killed in 2000.

[22] For the sense of urgency created by technology in the context of present day capitalism, please see: Tomlinson (2007).

This article was published on August 12, 2015, for the International Youth Day, in Global Education Magazine.

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