Rethinking Regionalism: Memory of Change in a Turkish Black Sea Town (1)

By Ozturkmen, Arzu | East European Quarterly, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Rethinking Regionalism: Memory of Change in a Turkish Black Sea Town (1)


Ozturkmen, Arzu, East European Quarterly


This study examines the local response of a Black Sea town (Tirebolu) to the regional change occurring since the late 1980s from a historical-anthropological perspective. It seeks to understand how economic and political changes brought about in the last decades resonates at the level of localities and their people, who experienced a strong nation-building process in Turkey since the 1930s, through such Republican institutions as public schools or People's Houses. (2) The principal hypothesis is that the local perception of "regionality" deviated from centuries-long traditions of regional communication mainly in the 20th century, and completely changed how a particular town situates itself on the national and regional grounds. The objective of this study is to analyze the dynamics between regionalism, nation-building and locality focusing on the case of Tirebolu in Turkey.

Interest in the study of "locality" followed the upsurge of interest in the studies on nationalism during the 1980s by such scholars as Anderson (1983), Gellner (1983), Smith (11983) and Hobsbawm (1990). As a unit of analysis, "the local" received more attention in the 1990s, where the works of Gupta and Ferguson (1992), Appadurai (1995) and Feld and Basso (1996) approached the issue of locality with reference to its relation to the "national" and the "global." The works of Edward Casey (1993, 1997), however, brought a deconstructive framework to the analysis of such terms as "place," "region," "local," "zone" and "boundary"--very useful in the rethinking of these terms in their geographical and historical contexts. The issue of locality was often associated with issues of identity and the sense of belonging in anthropological surveys of the concept of locality. The approach developed by Borneman (1992) and Lovell (1998) provide clear examples of such an anthropological perspective. Locality has also been a central subject matter in the literature in the field of oral history as illustrated in the works of Danielson (1980), Glassie (1982), Portelli (1991), Kammen (1995), and Kyvig and Marty (1996), who focused on the importance of local perceptions of historical events using oral narratives.

It is within the framework of this interdisciplinary approach to the issue of locality that Tirebolu's stance can be evaluated vis-a-vis its relation to the national center and the region at large. Such a local perspective requires a close look at the historical development of Tirebolu and its relation to both the national center and the surrounding region at large. The research adopts an oral history and ethnographic survey approach to reveal the past memory of the experience related to nation-building and regionalism, with a focus on the social and economic transformation of the town. Integrating the concepts of "nation-building" and "regionalism," it will hopefully have a contribution of an applied nature for establishing future policies in similar localities in Turkey.

Research Methodology

The research benefited mainly from two methodologies: (1) an ethnographic survey of the town, and (2) an oral history approach to collect narratives of the regional and national memory. The focus during the ethnographic observation was on how the local economy operated within the town, with an eye to the organization of material life. Preliminary research was conducted in order to establish the necessary network of narrators, who were chosen from a variety of professions in Tirebolu's main market place where the effect of social change was most strongly experienced. This included 10 in-depth interviews with street vendors from the bazaar, small-scale shopkeepers and owners of newly developing businesses in the town. Other interviews (with 30 people) were also collected as a narrative of life-story, but focused on the geographical and social mobility of the informants to access narratives of popular memory.

The oral history research provided data about those aspects of past experiences of Tirebolu's local economy which were not visible in today's practices. …

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