Spotlight on RESPOND-er: Justyna Szalanska

My journey to RESPOND began in 2014, when I attended a conference, ‘From a Cradle of Civilization to a Globalizing Transit Region’ organized by the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul. With a group of academics and researchers from different disciplines like ethnology, psychology, archeology, political sciences, law and linguistics we discussed Turkey in the context of being a transit region witnessing an exchange of people, art and ideas. In fact, this process should be considered as including migration, since the latter is not only about the movement of people, but also about all of the things that people cannot live without.  Somehow, big politics frequently narrows migration to literal, dictionary understandings and creates and imposes this image of the process for the public. As a result, we face a production and reproduction of migration discourses, which often diverge from the real picture of the process.

My PhD research and my work for RESPOND are closely interlinked because both focus on political discourses in which migration is a key topic. Since I have a background in two areas: Political Sciences and Turkish studies, I would like to use the knowledge from both of them in my PhD dissertation. Therefore, in my PhD research, I focus on the interdependencies of two categories, namely, national identity and the foreign policy of Turkey. Since my aim is to show how national identity can be discursively created, I study the political discourse in Turkey by using the method of Discourse Analysis. The subject of my studies is Turkey’s foreign policy during Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule.

In order to illustrate the process of a discursive construction of identity, I am following the assumption that identity is a socially constructed phenomenon, and as such, it cannot exist independently from communities. The latter assumption is convergent with the theory of imagined communities of Benedict Anderson (Anderson 1991). Although the latter applies to nations, in fact identity and nation have much in common, especially in the case of national identity. For Foucault, identities and social beliefs are constituted in a discourse, as language is closely linked with power in society. As such, discourse is also an expression of social power, since it aims at imposing a specific meaning, signifiers, on language. (Foucault 1989).

The construction of identity is a two-fold process – first – the national Self and different and threatening Others are created, then there is a process of gradation of difference and Otherness (Hansen 2006, 37). In my dissertation I am applying Hansen’s theory of three different ways of identity construction: spatial, temporal and ethical (Hansen 2006, 46:51). Spatially constructed identity is an identity constituted relationally, which involves construction of boundaries and, hence, delineation of space. Spatial identity not only delineates different states – Russia, Syria, Iraq, but also creates different regions (Middle East, Near East, Eurasia). Spatial identity sometimes refers to people as well – since they are linked within a specific territory or space – for example, refugees, migrants, Westerners, Muslims. Temporal identity is closely related to various processes – progress, development, transformation, continuity, change, repetition. The Other is often described as ‘backward’, ‘tribal’, ‘savage’, ‘barbarian’, ‘primitive’, or ‘less developed’ and is distinguished by using specific expressions opposite to the Self. The Other doesn’t have to be external, but can be derived from the country’s or nation’s historical past.  In Turkey, the internal temporal Other are governments before AKP, in Poland, the internal Other is Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) governments.

The ethical identity dimension is based on the assumption that foreign policy discourses always involve a construction of responsibility. Although the responsibility more often targets the national audience, hence governments like to emphasize their policies are pursued in the name of the national interest, in case of countries which are referred to as ‘powers’ or with ambitions to become an international or a regional power, an ‘international responsibility’ is raised. The latter is related to ethics and morality and is articulated as a responsibility of the Self towards the Other. The best example of ethical identity is the U.S. responsibility to promote democracy in the world. As for Turkey, ethical identity was firstly discursively created as responsibility towards the Muslim population in the world (their exemplary manifestations were: expression of support for people in the Gaza Strip during the Israeli operation of Leak Lead of 2008/2009, increasing development aid, the majority of which is focused on Muslim less developed countries; or support for the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar).  This was later transformed into the ‘ethical foreign policy’ (ilkesel dış politikası) concept of the then Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

As I mentioned earlier, refugees or immigrants can play a very significant role in creating an identity through political discourse. During recent election campaigns in many European countries, like Poland, Hungary or Austria, it was seen that playing a “migrant card” had a real influence on the election results and contributed to the populist U-turn in these countries. Considering Turkey, the hosting of approximately 3 million of Syrian refugees was used in two different ways: the ruling Justice and Development Party tried to win votes by appealing to the Muslim brotherhood and mercy, whereas opposition parties presented them directly or indirectly as a burden to the country’s economy. Hence, it proved that the language used by the leading politicians to describe refugees is chosen deliberately and with a specific political purpose. Having in mind the huge peril of the misusage of language towards a specific group of people, which was most witnessed during World War II, I find the RESPOND project to be a chance for an objective study of the phenomenon of the last refugee movement and for raising awareness about the possibility of a non-biased stance towards it.

Justyna’s Biography

Currently, I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Journalism and Political Sciences at the University of Warsaw, Poland.  I write my PhD dissertation on the interdependencies of Turkey’s national identity influence and foreign policy. I did M.A. Diploma in International Relations and B.A. Diploma in Turkish Studies at the University of Warsaw. In 2011, I was a Research Trainee at BILGESAM, a Turkish think tank. My research interests focus on identity issues in Turkey and Europe, nationalism and populism relations and, last but not least, discourses towards migration and refugees. In 2014 I was awarded a TUBITAK Scholarship for Foreign Researchers. From November 2014 until May 2015, I was a Research Fellow at the Center of International and European Research at Kadir Has University (Turkey). Since December 2017, I have been a researcher at the Swedish Research Institute of Istanbul, also cooperating with the Centre of Migration Research at the University of Warsaw in relation to the RESPOND project.


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