THE PROBLEM OF
PARTICIPATION OF YOUNG
PEOPLE IN TURKEY
Assoc. Prof. Demet Lüküslü
Yeditepe University, Istanbul, Turkey
ABOUT THE TITLE…
The title of my presentation is “The problem of
participation of young people in Turkey.
I have to say that while thinking about the title, I was
inspired by the title of the article of Karl Mannheim, a
classic today, “The Problem of Generations”.
I have been doing research on youth in Turkey for quiet
a long time now. I have started working on the topic with
my undergraduate dissertation and continued with my
MA and PhD. I finished my PhD in 2005 and I continue
still doing research in the field of sociology of youth.
I will try to give you an overall summary of my studies
during those years since they are all related with
participation of young people. And I think such an
overview will summarize the main issues related with
the problem of participation of young people.
I have started doing research on youth in Turkey with
my PhD dissertation (even though I have to add that my
undergraduate and MA thesis were all related with
When I started searching for a research topic, it was the
year 2000 and the dominant paradigm on youth in
Turkey was defining youth as a depoliticized and
As a PhD student I was interested in exploring and
criticizing this dominant paradigm.
A starting point was the literature review which made me
see that there was not much written on the topic. There
was very little qualitative research and most of the
research was quantitative, various surveys (mostly on
SURVEYS ON YOUTH IN TURKEY…
The surveys on youth in Turkey, published from the second
half of the 1990s to the present (let‟s say until the Gezi Park
resistance) indicated that young people feel a certain apathy
toward the political sphere and their participation in political
parties, political organizations or NGOs is low.
The dominant paradigm based on these surveys rested on the
idea that this is an apolitical generation, a “different”
generation than previous generations.
Whereas the previous generations were politically active, the
so-called third generation of Turkey (the post-1980
generation) was considered as the generation of the military
coup, neoliberalism and consumer society.
This image, added to inactivity on the political scene that
contrasts with that of previous generations, has further
deepened the criticism against this younger generation.
HISTORY OF YOUTH IN TURKEY &
THE “MYTH OF YOUTH
Given these historical contrasts, I realized that a study
on the history of youth in Turkey is necessary for better
comprehension of the contemporary generation.
If youth, as a social category, is indeed a construct of
industrialization, urbanization, of modernity, then the
emergence of youth as a social category in the history of
modern Turkey dates from the 19th century
modernization movements of the Ottoman Empire.
I will not go into the details of this modernization process
in this presentation but I believe that it is important to
note that era witnessed the emergence of “modern”
Western style schools where the generation underwent
a “modern” form of socialization.
THE “MYTH OF YOUTH”…
Interestingly, this modernization process
constructed youth as a social and political category
whose ultimate objective was to save the ottoman
Empire from collapse and restore its glory.
I refer to this definition of youth as a political
category as the “myth of youth” and argue that
it has been a key component of Turkish political
culture since the 19th century.
Although the empire‟s young generation accepted
its political mission, it also believed that the way to
save the empire was to rebel against the Sultan
and his oppressive regime. Hence the Young Turk
movement and the revolution of 1908 were in fact
products of the modernization process.
THE “MYTH OF YOUTH” AND THE
Likewise, those who founded the Republic of Turkey in
1923 were all members of the last generation of the
empire and had inherited this myth of youth which
therefore became the symbol of the young republic.
The Republic’s first generation (1923-1950), a
restricted group of those privileged enough to have
received an education, was constructed according to the
principles of the Republic and Kemalist ideology and is
seen as the “vanguard” of the Republic.
The second generation, the so-called 60’s and 70’s
generations, were equally active as actors on the
political scene. Whether they adhered to leftist or rightist
movements, their ideologies centered on the State, and
even when in conflict, each was loyal to the myth of
youth and claimed to be the state‟s real vanguard.
THE END OF THE MYTH OF YOUTH?
So the post-1980 generation symbolizes the
end of the myth of youth in which young
people are actively involved in the political
space, a notion that has existed in Turkish
political culture since the 19th century.
I objected in my PhD thesis and in my postdoctoral
research to the idea that young people‟s attitudes
are associated only with apathy.
The qualitative date- starting from my doctoral
fieldwork in 2000 to present- show that:
young people do not seem ignorant about the
society or the world‟s difficulties but are in fact
conscious of such problems and unhappy about
living in a society with so many.
they are highly critical of the political space, which
seem far removed from their desires and needs.
Thus in these young people‟s minds the traditional
political space is a devalued one.
DEVALORISATION OF THE
TRADITIONAL POLITICAL SPACE
I argued that young people defined traditional political
a corrupted and clientelistic space
an extremely rigid and untransformable space and,
political organizations are “authoritarian” entities in
which individuals can only either join a group or become
a militant but cannot freely express and realize
Interestingly, such negative perceptions of the
traditional political space were also shared by
young people active in civil society, who not only
rejected conventional politics and ideologies but tended
to situate themselves as above al ideologies.
The sudden change from “inactive” “apolitical” young
figure to young “actors” might seem as a surprise to
those who defined the young generation as silent and
obedient, for researchers who track traces of
“discontent” and “resistance” in acts of silence and
obedience, this situation is no mystery.
I argue that a general characteristic of the young in
Turkey is the “necessary conformism” that they adopt as
a tactic, as an “art of living”.
This concept of “necessary conformism” can only be
read in a global, neoliberal, consumptionist context.
Necessary conformism is not synonymous with apathy,
but rather hides a real and strong discontent and can
mask a profound agony.
Necessary conformism as a sociological concept for analyzing
the young generations, take on from François Dubet‟s , Michel
de Certeau‟s and Ulrich Beck‟s analysis.
The necessary conformism echoes the necessary fictions of
[Necessary fictions] are neither ideologies not moral convictions but
cognitive and moral frameworks indispensable for the accomplishment of
the socialization project… [They are fictions] in which actors do not really
believe but canot renounce without their work emptying itself of meaning.
Michel de Certeau distinguishes between “tactic“ and
“strategy” and defines tactic as the “art of the weak” whereas
“strategy” is the “art of the powerful”.
I argue that the young generation in Turkey seemingly choose
to act in conformity with society‟s rules without really believing
in them by inventing “tactics” rather than directly rebelling.
It is, however, important to note that necessary conformism is
not synonymous with apathy, but rather hides a real and
strong discontent and can mask a profound agony.
According to the logic of necessary conformism, young people
are only conformist when they believe it to be necessary, but
they try to escape being so whenever possible.
. Necessary conformism turns institutions into entities that are
both dead and alive or, as Beck explains it, the young
generation in individualized societies is an “actively unpolitical
younger generation which has taken the life out of the political
institutions and is turning them into zombie categories.
In fact, this so-called unpolitical younger generation
strategically employs the tactic of necessary conformism
to turn institutions- whether family, educational or
political- into zombie categories.
NECESSARY CONFORMISM AND
FEELING LIKE A CHAMELEON
Interestingly, even participants who were active in civil society
and hoped to bring about change gave examples of
For them, necessary conformism was not only a tactic in
everyday life; it was also a tactic for getting things done and
achieving their goals in civil society.
To explain thei conduct, they used expressions like:
nabza göre şerbet vermek (to treat someone in a way
calculated to please him/her),
alavere dalavere (to trick someone by playing games),
ayıya dayı demek (to flatter someone until he/she does what
is demanded from him/her),
huyuna gitmek (to indulge somebody),
yerine göre politik davranmak (to act politically according to
the situation), and
karşılıklı olarak birbirini kandırmak (to reciprocally deceive).
CYBERSPACE AS A YOUTHFUL SPACE
In the presence of many “zombie categories”,
cyberspace in which young generation is especially
active, offers a very “alive” and using Asef Bayat‟s
terminology, “youthful” space characterized by,:
“a particiular habitus, behavioral and cognitive dispositions
that are associated with the fact of being „young‟‟- that is, a
distinct social location between childhood and adulthood,
where the youngster experiences „relative autonomy‟ and is
neither totally dependent (on adults) nor independent, and is
free from responsibility for other dependents (Bayat, 2010:
Cyberspace offers a large platform for studying young
people. I analyze three different websites which gained
popularity in Turkey and which became important
examples of how the young generation uses the new
information technologies as a creative tool for creating a
CYBERSPACE IN TURKEY
I studied three websites, very different in nature:
Ekşi sözlük (Sourtimes, www.sourtimes.org)
Genç Siviller (Young Civilians, www.gencsiviller.net)
Yüzde 52 (52 Percent, www.yuzde52.org)
These three websites contain common
characteristics which situate them within the
contemporary generation in Turkey:
a rejection of traditional politics;
preoccupation with the present life and with
drawing substance from everyday life; and
the usage of humor, in particular black humor.
REJECTION OF TRADITIONAL POLITICS
None of these websites claim to be
sites containing political content in the
In fact, a rejection of traditional politics
and ideologies rather than an
interiorization or acceptance is easily
PREOCCUPIED WITH THE PRESENT
A second common characteristic of these websites is a
preoccupation with the present (not past or future, with which
ideologies and political movements are usually preoccupied),
life (rather than death) and private space (rather than public
In fact, the criticisms made by each one of these three groups
can be briefly summarized as criticism about the restrictions
felt in everyday life (present life) and private space, especially
restrictions on personal liberties.
This is a characteristic that unites these three youth
movements and separates them from traditional political
This characteristic also marks the end of what I call, the “myth
of youth.” Since these movements reject involvement in
political life and choose to be involved in private space rather
than public or political space, they also reject the definition of
youth as a political category destined to save or advance the
USAGE OF HUMOR/ BLACK HUMOR
Third, the content of these websites draw substance from
everyday life and also from popular culture.
They draw on a language from everyday life rooted in humor
and especially black humor.
Many of the entries and titles in Ekşi Sözlük originate from the
everyday life experiences of young people or from popular
culture. In a similar manner, the Young Civilians, too, make
references to stand-up comedian and other aspects of popular
culture. Likewise, 52 Percent focuses on events from
everyday life experiences of young people, such as university
The anger they show in their protests is also the same anger
they experience in their everyday lives because of
neoliberalism, repressive policies of the military coup regime,
gerontocratic politicians, or the repressive policies of the
CONCLUSION: THE PROBLEM OF
PARTICIPATION OF PARTICIPATION
Continuity of the myth of youth: the objective
is to construct the youth
Denial of agency; youth seen as “objects”
rather than subjects
Dominance of adult-centered point of view/
“not yet adults”- in the process of becoming
Transformation of the myth of youth: The
nation-state‟s (Kemalist) myth of youth is
being replaced by a neoliberal and
The young people in Turkey (the post-1980
generation) were not able to feel
comfortable in traditional political space and
they chose to stay away from politics and
they chose to realize themselves in the
But the neoliberal and conservative myth of
youth is intervening in the private space of