Gecekondu Chic: Aestheticization of Urban Poverty in Istanbul
Paper short abstract:
My paper focuses on the emerging imagination of “gecekondu chic” and its relevance to the recent coining of Istanbul as “cool city” in global media. I pin down a major discursive shift from negative descriptions of Istanbul in terms of “crude urbanization” (typical of third world cities) to positive reconsiderations of its “crude” characteristics as urban potentialities (of a globalizing city).
Paper long abstract:
This paper focuses on the emerging popular imagination of "gecekondu chic" in the context of Istanbul. To understand why and how this imagination emerges at this point in time and space, I discuss closely a contemporary art exhibition by an Istanbulite painter representing on canvas the gecekondu neighborhoods of a bygone age, an "alternative" gecekondu tour organized by a tourism company serving mainly a German clientele, and a French-Austrian urban research group's studies of Istanbul geared towards "learning from the city's informal urbanism." My analysis pins down a major discursive change from negative descriptions of Istanbul's urban development in terms of "crude urbanization" (typical of third world cities) to positive reconsiderations of its "crude" characteristics as urban potentialities (of a globalizing city). The latter coincides with the remarkable transformation of the city's image in global media, which has coined Istanbul as "the coolest city of Europe" (Newsweek 2005). I discuss the relevance of the imagination of "gecekondu chic" to Istanbul's new global image as "cool city," with a background made up of the material transformation of the city's spaces: the ongoing demolitions, displacements and evictions in gecekondu neighborhoods on the one hand; those areas of the city that are increasingly becoming chic commercial spaces of consumption on the other. The relationship between these seemingly distinct material changes constitute the core problematic in my discussion of the discursive break in the imagination of the gecekondu in Istanbul.
Commodifying urban poverty, social exclusion and marginalisation: spatial and social consequences (IUAES Commission on Urban Anthropology)