Friends, foes and the anthropologist: the methodological peculiarities of a research project on Islamic fashion in Istanbul
(University of Bucharest)
Paper short abstract:
This presentation addresses the challenges that marked research on the divisive topic of Islamic fashion in Turkey, in a time of intense cleavage between secular and religious conservatism, and in a context of dependence on the hospitality of both secular and religiously conservative people.
Paper long abstract:
Between 2012 and 2014, I conducted fifteen months of intermittent fieldwork on the Islamic fashion industry in Istanbul. This was a period when the grip on power of the Islam-rooted party that had ruled Turkey for more than a decade intensified and when the difference between secular and conservative ideas about and ways of life was felt more acutely than ever. My entrance into the fieldwork was smoothed by the friends I already had in the city. They hosted and helped me deal with the problems a foreigner inevitably encountered. They also criticised me for choosing this research topic. They asked me why I did not change it. They pointed out that because of me they started to think more often about things they would have otherwise ignored. In time, I learnt to think of them as secular Turks. I began my research and met, interviewed and hung around with key players in the Islamic fashion industry, most of them veiled women. They asked me why I chose this research topic. I saw eyebrows raising when I said I lived in a neighbourhood known as secular. I felt my new friends' discomfort when we walked through this neighbourhood. I negotiated my position through and against these oppositions and tried hard to avoid being co-opted into other people's projects. I struggled with moral and political dilemmas, but carried out my research. In this presentation, I discuss this experience and its impact on personal integrity and the cultivation of anthropological sensitivity.
Hospitality, dependence and mutuality: negotiating positionality and methodologies in the Middle East