Accepted Paper:

Changing conceptions of personhood in contemporary Turkey: an upper middle class school ethnography  

Author:

Muge Ayan Ceyhan (Istanbul Bilgi University)

Paper short abstract:

This research paper is based on one and a half years of participant observation at a primary school in Turkey. The ethnographic data overwhelmingly indicate that in the process of trying to meet high expectations coming from the school authority, teachers’ roles and obligations became so dominant as to downplay and pressurise their ‘selves’.

Paper long abstract:

This research paper is a study of changing conceptions of personhood in Turkey. It focuses on a private primary school, which encourages values of entrepreneurialism, individualism, and creativity, and stands in contrast to the state system promoting conformity and equality. Based on one and a half years of participant observation at Bakis School, an upper middle class primary school in Istanbul, the study investigates how teachers raised in a conformist educational system develop a sense of 'individualism'.

The ethnographic evidence indicates that Bakis School reproduced as well as challenged the value systems underlying Turkish society. With its alternative educational model, Bakis called into question the nation-state's attempts to promote a concept of personhood revolving around conformism, obedience and citizenship, and promoted the idea of a person being an independent individual endowed with 'rights'. The extent to which teachers and parents comprehended these ideals forms a key part of the analysis and I also discuss how even the school administration vacillated between opposing conceptions of personhood. The ethnographic data overwhelmingly indicate that in the process of creating an alternative educational system from scratch and trying to meet high expectations coming from the school authority, teachers' roles and obligations became so dominant as to downplay and pressurise their 'selves'. Interestingly, in order to be able to raise children as independent individuals, the teachers needed to be interdependent people obedient to authority and this resulted in a complex and often conflicting interplay between their ideals and their day-to-day experiences.

Panel W081
Modern institutions in a 'cross-cultural' perspective - ethnographies of adaptation and code-switching