Market Value: Economic Transformation and the Ethics of Pluralism in Three Istanbul Marketplaces
My project examines how three historic markets in Istanbul have changed over recent decades of economic and political transformation in the city.
• Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar –established soon after the Ottoman conquest and reputedly the world’s oldest continuously operating marketplace– emerged in the early 2000s as one of the world’s most visited tourist sites and (for a time) a key financial hub of the (largely illicit) scrap gold trade between Europe and the Middle East.
• Originally known in the nineteenth century as the Grande Rue de Péra, İstiklal Caddesi [Independence Avenue] was the first great retail boulevard in the Ottoman Empire modelled after Haussmann’s Paris. The transforming nightlife market tangled through this boulevard’s numerous arcades and side streets has proved perhaps the country’s most public flashpoint over the relation between ‘culture’, politics, and economy during recent years, not least as the setting for the 2013 Gezi Protests.
• Down where the Golden Horn washes into the Bosphorus, the Port of Istanbul was constructed by the Turkish state to regulate maritime trade and finance during an era of import-substituting industrialisation in an area called Galata. First developed during the Byzantine era by the Genoese as a port of trade, today, especially in the years since Gezi, the area has become increasingly galvanised around one of the Erdoğan government’s (self-styled) ‘crazy’ public-private infrastructure projects; GalataPort, a cruiseship terminal cum real-estate complex, designed in parallel with schemes to dig a new Bosphorus.
Compassing key moments in the city’s long mercantile history –a bazaar, arcades, a port– each of these market districts share in common the historical feature that commerce there was shaped by non-Muslim minority traders well into the twentieth century. After these minorities were violently expropriated and Istanbul consolidated into a Muslim-majority city, a central question I investigate is why the old non-Muslim minorities in these historic markets have so often been replaced by new minorities; in particular, different sorts of minority Muslim migrant. Over the last fifteen years I have worked closely with a range of migrant traders who are trying to find a place for their minority Muslim families in the city through trade as family businesses in these markets:- Turkish citizens who are not Turks by ethnicity or not Sunni Muslim; ‘expatriates’ often from the Middle East or Central Asia, but also less-well-to-do refugees, including large numbers from Syria; or Muslims whose lifestyle, household, or family structure are not widely seen as compatible with Islam, including same-sex families and single unmarried women.
Analysing qualitative data that span virtually the entire period since the Justice and Development Party rose to power nationally in 2002 with a promise of peace through prosperity, one major finding of my research is that although commerce in these markets has certainly transformed over the course of these years, rather than convergence there has been significant divergence between each of the three markets. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar in the early decades of the twenty-first century has curiously come to resemble some classic anthropological models of a bazaar economy far more than it did in the mid-twentieth century, and certain economic and political dynamics that have proved vital to the changing shape of trade and finance in İstiklal Caddesi and Galata resonate in sometimes surprising ways with formative social science models of arcades and ports of trade.
Affording a body of fine-grained, longditudinal data to assess larger theories about the nature of contemporary capitalism — theories that often hinge on claims of an epochal historical realignment of relations between ‘market’ and ‘state’— my work with the Max-Cam Centre follows lessons a range of Muslim minority migrants have learnt over the last fifteen years about the possibilities and limits of trade for incorporating their minority families, the purchase of pluralism in Istanbul.