Accepted Paper:

Large Dams as Affectively Charged Entities: The Art of Making the Nation  


Aybike Alkan (Koç University, Istanbul)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses how large dams in Turkey are infused with affect and how Occidentalism provided the basis for the mobilization of affect through particular designs and representations.

Paper long abstract:

In addition to their technical abilities in terms of facilitating the movement of people and resources, infrastructures also mobilize ideas, symbols, and discourses through their aesthetic aspects. The aesthetic dimension of infrastructures makes them affectively charged entities and thereby constitutes an important part of their political effect (Larkin, 2013).

In the context of Turkey, the aesthetics of infrastructures are strongly tied to their enormous size. The right-wing tradition in Turkey aimed to mobilize the senses of pride and fascination through the largeness of infrastructures among which the dams have been the source of special interest. The height and number of dams have been transformed into a political erotic that has also spoken to the strength of the nation (Bora, 2016). During this transformation, the politicians and experts used "the west" as a reference point and introduced the dams in comparison to the "western" dams based on their largeness.

Therefore, the dams of Turkey epitomize the Occidentalism, "a fantasy of authenticity and sovereignty as nationalism, all through the performance of Western forms of modernity" (Ahıska, 2010:45).

In this paper, I focus on how Turkish State Hydraulic Works, the main technical institution responsible for the water infrastructures in Turkey, infuses the dams with affect when comparing them with the western infrastructures. I conduct an ethnographic analysis on social media accounts of the institution to show how dams are represented in visual and textual materials and how this representation tells about the decisions related to the design of dams in Turkey.

Panel P092
The art of infrastructure