Accepted Paper:

The "cosmopolitanisms" of (Moldovan) postsocialist domestics in Istanbul and their Turkish employers  


Leyla Keough (University of Massachusetts-Amherst)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the subjective experiences of cosmopolitanism of Moldovan migrant domestics and their elite employers in Istanbul. Following Abu-Lughod (1999), it argues that we shift the anthropological lens from a focus upon the diversity of "cultures" to an understanding of the differing and at times overlapping configurations of "cosmopolitanisms."

Paper long abstract:

Border and bridging East and West, Istanbul has long been celebrated as a cosmopolitan city. More recently, this assertion has been combined with its theorization as a "global city" marked by a neoliberal service economy. One indication of this is the concurrent increases in a wealthy Westernized elite and the presence of irregular migrant domestics from the former socialist states who help this class fulfill their new lifestyles. Based upon 14 months of ethnographic research in Istanbul and Moldova, in this paper, I deploy the concept of "cosmopolitanisms" (Abu-Lughod 1999) to explore the subjectivities not only of these jet-set elites, but also of their migrant domestics from Moldova. The latter's cosmopolitanisms derive from particular combinations of education, travel, wealth, labor, urbanity, and (as part of a postsocialist diaspora in Istanbul) a renewed identification with an "internationalist" Soviet past. I illuminate the kinds of cosmopolitanisms these women workers gain and lose in the context of their mariginalized lives as irregular migrants; exploring how they use a nostalgic sense of Soviet cosmopolitanism to resist and/or (re)occupy their marginalization from Turkish society on their own terms. By deploying "cosmopolitanisms" as an analytic tool in this manner and by remaining attentive to its emic meanings, we can better understand these women's positionalities and practices. In so doing, we also shift from a focus upon the diversity of "cultures" to an examination of the different configurations of cosmopolitanisms -- tracing these to specific experiences of power, wealth, education, labor, and gender located in particular places.

Panel W078
Mutuality's margins: contesting cosmopolitanism in the rescaled city