The politics of giving: Charity, state, civil society and governance in contemporary Turkey

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Charitable giving has always been centrally important for both the political ambitions of the state and its governing structures, and the Muslim feelings of public belonging and commitment to religious duty. In Turkey, associations and vakıfs provide the technical assemblages to devise projects that go beyond the dichotomies of secular/religious, of charity/philanthropy and develop communities that transcend national boundaries. This paper highlights charitable associations and vakıfs as not only places where formal and informal mechanisms of social protection manifest themselves, but also as places where new understandings of the role of the state are fashioned. Visibility of the poor, tinged with nostalgia, becomes a way to remember the “just” and “fatherly” Ottoman Empire and an Islamic charitable heritage based on transnational religious feeling of brotherhood/sisterhood. Consequentially, charitable communities inadvertently aid and abet the neoliberal agenda of the government.

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