Interview by Mehmet Ekinci
…I discuss Turkey as a site that enabled both the construction and validation of postwar developmental thought and practice. Rather than a blank slate that received ideas and projects that had been conceived in the United States, it was an active location where preexisting visions of development and statecraft were worked out and repackaged into modernization theory.
Begüm Adalet’s book Hotels and Highways: The Construction of Modernization Theory in Cold War Turkey was published by Stanford University Press in April 2018. And it is an exciting read for sure! We had the chance to talk with Adalet about her book this past winter and we are excited to share this interview with you on IstanbuLab Blog.
Hotels and Highways has a refreshing take on the history of Cold War in Turkey and provides a critical lens regarding the intellectual histories of both modernization theory as well as its material manifestations via various social science research and big scale engineering projects. This is a book with forceful arguments that spring forth from putting the critical tools of political theory and STS in novel configurations. These configurations are grounded in exciting storytelling and rich empirical material of the intellectual and material histories of modernization theory as it was enacted by a set of American and Turkish expert groups such as social scientists, engineers, and policy-makers.
Begüm Adalet is an assistant professor at Cornell University, Government Department. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania and before that she studied political science in University of Massachusetts Amherst (MA) and Swarthmore College (BA).
Let’s start with the background story of Hotels and Highways if you like. How did you start working on this empirically rich book which also makes a set of theoretical and historical interventions to the academic field you are coming from? Can you take us through its institutional and intellectual trajectories?
Since the book engages with an episode in the history of the social sciences, I think it makes sense to answer this question by talking about my own disciplinary trajectory. I started graduate school in political science right in the aftermath of a movement that dissident political scientists called “perestroika.” This was a movement that started in 2000 and grew through e-mail chains, and it was meant as a challenge to the single-minded commitment to quantitative, big-data driven and game theoretical methodologies in the discipline. The advisors I ended up working with were quite critical of the behavioral and quantitative methods that dominated the field and were also doing important work in intellectual and disciplinary history (one had just published a book questioning the reign of scientific aspirations in the field; and the other was working on a revisionist history of international relations, uncovering the white supremacist, imperialist roots of the discipline). And so, I was very much shaped by their critical approaches to the scientific turn in political science, but I also gradually began to see that behavioral methods, the certitude of social scientific models, as well as research that was complicit with imperial projects, which were once again in demand in the 2000s, had earlier origins in the history of the discipline. I became interested in the emergence of modernization theory as one episode in this ongoing history.
Of course, in my field seminars, modernization theory was treated as this embarrassing interlude in the history of our discipline, but I knew that current work on encouraging local leadership in rural development schemes, research in democratization, and certain strands of large scale survey research, in fact, retained some of its assumptions. Therefore, I thought that the durability of the theory needed some explaining, which led me to finding and working on some of the actual material sites in which it was constructed, which included survey research, highways, and tourism infrastructures in places like postwar Turkey. So, what started as an interest in disciplinary history gradually grew into a project about the production of knowledge, and I ended up writing a book about how political and social scientific theories are constructed in material sites and through local interactions, and how they end up having concrete and political effects in the world.
So, that’s kind of the explanation for why I think of the book as my way of grappling with a type of disciplinary history. But there’s also an answer here that would have to do with wanting to better understand the recent history and politics of Turkey. I thought that with some very good exceptions, including recent work by Aslı Iğsız, Tolga Tören or architectural historians Esra Akcan and Sibel Bozdoğan, research on Turkey had focused on either the early years of the Republic or the post-1980s interest in what came to be called Islamist politics, or “Muslim modernities.” Relatively little had been done on the Cold War years, which I came to believe was an important period, not just because it had been neglected before, but because it would help situate Turkey in a transnational history of the social sciences and development. I should also add that while I finished the dissertation as a political theorist, as someone interested in the emergence and travels of postwar ideas about modernization and their material manifestations, I completed the book in a center for Middle East studies, where I found more freedom to engage with interdisciplinary resources and approaches; and to have conversations with scholars of history, political economy, anthropology, and media and communications, some of whom were very well-versed in the language of science and technology studies.
I know that you spent quite some time in various archives located both in the US and in Turkey during your research, including Dankwart Rustow’s personal papers. Maybe you can talk a little bit about the particular archival fevers of the Hotels and Highways, how you navigated your way during research, and what unique moments the archives you worked at offered you.
Because I was trained as a political theorist and not as a historian, one of the biggest surprises in writing the book was discovering my love for archival research and the great degree of variety that can be found between different archival settings. So, my research sites were as varied as the National Archives in College Park, Maryland; the Records of the General Directorate of Highways in Ankara; and the private papers of Dankwart Rustow, which were housed in his widow’s apartment in New York City.
Out of these wide-ranging experiences, I can say that I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work in Rustow’s papers: not only was I the first research to have access to these records, but it also meant that I was allowed to spend hours sitting at his desk in his study, going through drawers full of unpublished manuscripts and private correspondence. While they had a logic of organization that probably made sense to Rustow himself, they were not necessarily cataloged in an alphabetical or chronological manner or curated in a way that a sterile setting like the National Archives might be. I found poetry that Rustow had scribbled on programmes during Council on Foreign Relations meetings for instance—I’m not sure if these would have made it to a university archive had one of the institutions where he taught acquired his private papers at that point. I think this experience allowed me to think about archival research in intimate and corporeal terms, which was fitting because Rustow’s work and papers themselves were so important in identifying moments of anxiety, doubt, and hesitation in social scientific knowledge production.
It’s exciting to read a book which situates Turkey in a web of political, academic, professional, and material practices amidst Cold War’s particular power games taking place in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. And you do this by thinking with a set of terms and conceptual frameworks from STS. Can you tell us how you encountered the STS literature you engage with in your work and how it enriched your analysis?
My first encounters with the terminologies and concepts of science and technology studies were through their applications to the social sciences, especially the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and economics. I also found the work of Tim Mitchell and Richard Rottenburg very helpful in how they brought the insights of STS to bear on the study of development. I wanted to use these resources to make sense of the theories and projects of Cold War modernization, and disciplinary history of political science more broadly. Part of this application entailed engaging seriously with the ways in which the behaviorist political scientists of this period seemed to fashion themselves as scientists, using the language of experimentation, laboratories, hypotheses, “law-like regularities,” and above all, their own characterization of “political science as science.” This allowed me to pay attention to the devices and technologies that were enrolled in social scientific knowledge production, as well as the material sites and infrastructures where these political theories were fashioned and enacted. The conceptual frameworks of STS helped me push beyond some of the conventions of disciplinary history and capture what I understand to be the materiality of all knowledge production.
I think that the insight from STS that social scientific theories and methodologies do not simply describe or measure, but in fact produce the phenomena that they seek to explain is profound and helps shed light on something like modernization theory. So, one of the arguments I make in the book is that when Daniel Lerner and Dankwart Rustow described the material and political changes they observed in postwar Turkey as modernization when they labeled it as modernity, they ended up contributing to the transformation of their objects of inquiry. This is why I talk about survey research, highways, hotels, and engineers’ offices as laboratories or microcosms where certain traits of “modern” subjectivity (such as empathy, mobility, hospitality, rational bookkeeping) were to be enacted, encouraged, and cultivated.
Additional STS concepts that I have found useful include “obligatory passage points” and “boundary objects,” which seemed to enrich the categories of analysis one might come across in intellectual histories and studies of material culture because they capture the flows and circulation of goods, ideas, and expertise that are central to transnational accounts and histories of development. These concepts also allowed me to situate both figures like Dankwart Rustow and objects like the Hilton Hotel as sites of translation between the local and the global, the particular and the abstract. I think these are important resources in framing and capturing the actual construction of modernization theory or political theories more broadly, which can benefit from being studied in connection to the local networks, material arrangements, and political histories that enable their production and dissemination.
Some scholars who work on histories of colonialism and postcolonialism argue that the places which were defined and governed as the periphery/colonies by the political and intellectual elite of the center/metropolis were actually the places where certain social and scientific experiments would be run in the first place in the name of modernity and then brought back to the center/metropolis. I know that you are very much engaged with histories of colonialism and postcolonialism both in your scholarly work and the courses you teach. Do you agree with this interpretation? And how does it get tied to the Hotels and Highways?
Absolutely. One of the most important insights of (post)colonial studies and related literature is that many innovations pertaining to the sciences of society and government were pioneered in the colonies or “peripheries” of the world, ranging from industrial methods of observation and strict labor disciplines to theories and projects of public health, sanitation, and the “English curriculum,” as well as racialized and gendered standards of European citizenship.
In the Cold War context, we can also talk about the ways in which developmental theories and projects were constituted by local practices, regional ideologies, and transnational encounters, rather than being crafted in the United States and applied elsewhere. Throughout the 1960s, for instance, community development programs which came out of places like India were brought home and recycled in the War on Poverty in the United States. The Green Revolution, for instance, emerged out of the Rockefeller Foundation’s experiences with agricultural transformation in the US South, which in fact shared a number of similarities and interactions with rural developmental projects in Mexico throughout the twentieth century.
It is also in this sense that I discuss Turkey as a site that enabled both the construction and validation of postwar developmental thought and practice. Rather than a blank slate that received ideas and projects that had been conceived in the United States, it was an active location where preexisting visions of development and statecraft were worked out and repackaged into modernization theory. I think more work needs to be done to show how the practitioners, whether social scientists, Marshall Plan representatives or highway engineers, took back with them these reworked theories and practices upon the completion of their laboratory work in Turkey and other places across the Global South.
Treating Turkey as an exceptional case in terms of its geopolitical location, social and cultural history has been some sort of a recurring theme in a wide range of policy-making practices, scholarship, punditry, and popular imaginaries. Do you think the historical actors and Cold War visions you engage with in your book see Turkey through their own unique lenses of exceptionalism? And my second question is: How did you approach this issue in your own work where you produce knowledge about material practices of a set of historical actors who produced knowledge about Turkey?
When I first started research on this book, I noticed that academic, journalistic, and official efforts to make sense of the early phases of the Arab uprising shared certain discourses and tropes with their Cold War counterparts, who became the protagonists of Hotels and Highways. U.S. scholars, policymakers, and pundits seemed to be rediscovering Turkey as a putative model of democracy and modernization for other Middle Eastern countries to emulate, just like their counterparts during the Cold War. Turkey’s history of military coups, authoritarian leaders, and the unrelenting persecution of its ethnic minorities were once again forgotten, along with the failures and misunderstandings of an earlier era of experiments with modernization. In emphasizing the Cold War roots of the resurgent trope of the Turkish model, I wanted to draw attention to the political effects of social scientists’ theories and research agendas, as well as their historical (and ongoing) entanglements with empire and grand schemes of development. I suppose my effort to criticize the roots of these ideas about the Turkish model can also be interpreted as contributing to the exceptionalization of the Turkish case.
But one of the things that I found to be illuminating was that each conversation about Turkey as a “model” of modernization (whether as an experiment of democratization in the early 1950s or as an example of military-led modernization in the early 1960s) also entailed anxieties about whether or not the political experiences of the country were exceptional, particular or unique. At some level, I think this was a built-in feature of efforts at comparison whether they took place at the Social Science Research Council’s Committee on Comparative Politics or the Council on Foreign Relations. This double-fold interest in Turkey as model and/or exception was clearest in comparisons with other “models” of modernization, such as Japan, which was a postwar ally that was readily upheld for emulation and was in fact depicted as years ahead of countries like Turkey in terms of its developmental trajectory. On the other hand, Turkey’s valorization as a model during the 1950s had important repercussions at the regional level of the Middle East. As Nathan Citino shows in his brilliant new book, this meant encouraging a Turkey-centric regional policy that ended up reinforcing ethno-geographic distinctions between so-called “modern Turks and backward Arabs,” and ultimately undermining a UN plan for the equitable redistribution of oil company profits. Thus, the Turkey specialists’ commitment to generalizing from the particularities of the country (and their erasure of the undemocratic, unequal, and xenophobic elements of its various reform projects) also had broader implications in discrediting alternative political and economic paths across the Middle East.
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