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Deniz Kandiyoti is Reader at the Department of Development Studies and Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus at SOAS. Her work on gender and development spans interests in rural household relations; state policy and Islam; and issues of post-coloniality and modernity. She has addressed these in relation to her native Turkey; comparatively across different state formations in the Middle East; and most recently, in the context of post-Soviet transition in the former Central Asian Republics, and post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan. Two of her works in particular —‘Bargaining with Patriarchy’ (1988) and Women, Islam and the State (1991)— remain foundational theoretical contributions that continue to shape debates about gender and development in the Middle East and beyond. Currently, she is editor of the journal, Central Asian Survey and is working on a comparative project titled, Islam and the Politics of Gender.

  • RH: 
    Tell us a little about your personal trajectory; who or what motivated you to study sociology/anthropology and the early issues of peasant households that you focused on? How did you become interested in gender?
  • DK: 
    My interest in rural transformations dates back to my PhD dissertation which was based on fieldwork in Central Anatolia. I was then both a PhD student at the LSE and a lecturer at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. I only became properly engaged in looking at gender issues as an academic from 1975 onwards. Most women of my generation in Turkey had a keen personal awareness of gender inequalities and forms of injustice and abuse directed at women. These were the heady days of the first International World Conference on Women in Mexico when there was greater optimism about the efficacy of international feminist activism. In 1976, we held the first national conference on women in Turkey, which led to a volume titled Women in Turkish Society (Abadan-Unat, 1981). The focus, then, was very much on women rather than gender. It was only later that I became interested in masculinities and, eventually, in cross-gender identities when I came to the realization that these reveal very important, if submerged, aspects of political culture in Turkey. This does not mean that I think mobilizing around women's rights — however understood — is passé in any way. On the contrary, the more I expanded my horizons through exposure to different regions and countries the more I realized that the vast majority of women continue to be deprived of the most basic entitlements and rights.
  • RH: 
    Your early work focused on political economy and rural transformation in Turkey. You then moved to theorizing about the state in relation to nationalism, Islam and gender. More recently your work has been going in two main directions: a more culturalist type of inquiry into the gendered nature of modernity in Turkey, and a return to a focus on rural livelihoods, now in the post-Soviet Central Asia. What has motivated these shifting concerns and approaches?
  • DK: 
    I realize that there is an apparent bifurcation in the perspectives I adopted in my work on Turkey and the lenses I trained on other regions. This is not something that was done with conscious deliberation. What you call a ‘culturalist’ approach provided me with the language I needed to talk about the gendered sub-texts of Turkish modernity, particularly those aspects of it that were subject to censorship (and self-censorship) and that I found most stifling. I was already working in Central Asia when I did this work; it was because I had what you might call unfinished business that I could not let go of these issues. I was particularly pleased to see younger scholars, both male and female, picking up on various aspects of the programmatic agenda I was trying to set out in this work.
    When I decided to work in Central Asia I was initially motivated by the possibility of extending the comparative analysis I had developed in Women, Islam and the State (Kandiyoti, 1991) — looking at the intersections of post-colonial modern state building with Islam, nationalism and women's rights — to Muslim majority countries in the Soviet periphery. I was particularly interested in the effects of the Soviet policies of militant secularization and atheism. However, I found myself having to come to grips with the upheavals of post-Soviet transition and understanding the complex and paradoxical effects of the Soviet command economy. My return to rural livelihoods and women's diminishing entitlements in the process of market transition was the logical outcome of that exposure. I have not, however, abandoned my initial project which I have now broadened to include Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. So I have returned to exploring the politics of gender in Muslim-majority societies but from an even broader comparative perspective.
  • RH: 
    When you wrote ‘Bargaining with Patriarchy’, what were you specifically responding to? Did you think the article would have the impact that it did?
  • DK: 
    ‘Bargaining with Patriarchy’ was published in 1988 but had been in the making much earlier, at a point in time when the subordination of women was still being analysed through the prism of contending frameworks that were either Marxist or radical feminist in inspiration. Capitalism and Patriarchy (with capital C and P) and their mutual interactions occupied centre stage for quite a while. Despite their undoubted contributions, these discussions had, in my view, led to an arid cul-de-sac that had little to tell us about women's agency and subjectivity. As a keen observer of the micro-politics of gender from childhood onwards, I simply had to find a way of talking about how women both accommodated to and resisted male-dominant orders. I was also trying to show how the paths of acquiescence or resistance were to some extent conditioned by the dominant cultural scripts of each specific context, allowing nonetheless for the possibility of change, making ‘patriarchal bargains’ subject to constant renegotiation. I am convinced that the success of this analytically flawed piece, which I revisited quite critically in Kandiyoti (1998), was due to an instant recognition of the phenomena I was describing, especially on the part of my colleagues in the South, who knew, almost intuitively, what I was talking about. Never mind that I was making all sorts of simplifying assumptions and resorting to ideal types to talk about different types of male dominance. I have myself been critical of the analytical grounding of this piece, not least because I became increasingly sceptical about using frameworks that were primarily geared to explaining class relations (such as the work of Gramsci, Bourdieu and James Scott) to understand the forms of negotiations that crystallize around gender. However, my earlier insights had in the meantime become part of conventional wisdom, especially in some work on gender and development, just at the point when I started feeling unease about the ways in which ‘resistance’ (and especially empowerment) was being conceptualized.
  • RH: 
    Along with undertaking primary research, you also consistently analyse the state of whatever field you're engaged in. Thirty years ago, the study of gender in the Middle East was still in its nascency — now it is a burgeoning field. In what ways has its growth in certain directions been at the expense of others? To what extent has work on gender in the region been able to communicate with the wider field of gender studies or has it remained isolated in Middle Eastern exceptionalism?
  • DK: 
    The answer to your last question is that both tendencies are simultaneously apparent. The gulf I hinted at in Gendering the Middle East (Kandiyoti, 1996) between the ‘cosmopolitans’ based in Universities in the West, whose PhDs or tenures depend on their proficiency in engaging with the canons of gender studies (and their respective disciplines), and the scholars based in the Middle East, who often write in the local languages, persists. This is not so much due to what you call ‘Middle Eastern exceptionalism’ as to the fact that locally-based scholars have to grapple with urgent political dilemmas that engage much more than their analytic passions. Their daily struggles are about nothing short of negotiating the future shape of their societies. It is not so surprising to find colleagues in Egypt, Palestine, Turkey or Iran so single-mindedly preoccupied with the political realities they face. There is no doubt that some of the debates they engage in are somewhat inward-looking and circumscribed by the politics of the ‘sayable’ and the ‘doable’ in their own contexts. But should we not be asking ourselves whether the field of gender studies is generating frameworks and idioms that actually assist scholars and activists in the Middle East in formulating viable analytical and political projects? In this respect, whatever ‘exceptionalism’ exists is not, in my view, being generated by scholars in the region but by Western-based scholars whose talk of ‘clashing’ civilizations and the alterity of ‘Muslim’ subjectivities unwittingly reinforces the most xenophobic and inward-looking tendencies in Muslim societies. The post-structuralist turn in gender studies which should, in theory, have unsettled the binaries of East/West, tradition/modernity that so many essentialisms rest upon has, on occasion, fostered lazy forms of relativism that can easily turn into apologias of the most conservative social forces. Basically, rising Islamism and Western ‘exceptionalism’ have found in each other ideal partners that can feed off each others' caricatures.
  • RH: 
    Political economy approaches to the study of gender in the Middle East were dominant twenty years ago, but have since been overtaken by foci on identity, Islam and more culturalist (including post-colonial) approaches to gender relations. What are your feelings about this trend?
  • DK: 
    I feel that both political economy approaches that somehow lost the specificity of the Middle East (which was treated as one more capitalist ‘periphery’) and approaches that privilege the effects of cultural encounters (of a colonial or post-colonial variety) tend to miss the target. Stuart Hall astutely remarked that one of the major weaknesses of post-colonial scholarship was that it had lost its critical engagement with political economy. He attributed this state of affairs to the fact that post-colonial scholarship had been most fully developed by scholars in the humanities who were unwilling or unable to address contemporary transformations in global capitalism. Although you characterize my work on Turkey as ‘culturalist’ one of its main objectives was to unsettle the boundaries between political economy and cultural analysis. The sociological phenomena described in Fragments of Culture (Kandiyoti and Saktanber, 2002) only make sense in the context of a new phase of globalization and the changes in Turkish society brought about by the neo-liberal reforms of the post-1980s. I would, therefore, contend that it has a very explicit grounding in political economy. I strongly feel that analyses that cannot bridge this divide tend to remain not only analytically truncated but also politically ineffectual.
  • RH: 
    What type of synergy have you found in your work in the former Soviet Republics and the issues and processes that you have dealt with in relation to the wider Middle East? What type of insights have you found from either context that might be relevant to the other?
  • DK: 
    My initial impressions were that I was truly back to square one as far as understanding the realities of post-Soviet Central Asia went. Surprisingly, it was my oldest work on rural transformations in Central Anatolia that came to the rescue in interpreting what I was witnessing. I started working in rural Uzbekistan in 1997 when state and collective farms were being restructured and the first timid steps to introduce leaseholds in land had started. This was the first time in my career as a social scientist that I was actually able to predict what would follow (which I was able to verify in 2001) with some precision. There was a pattern of polarization in access to leased land, a growing number of casual workers — including numerous women — an increase in informal economic activity, constantly hampered by punitive state regulations, and increasing out-migration. There was also a profound sense of injustice and despair which finally erupted into open unrest in the region of Andijan (attributed to ‘Islamic terrorism’) and was followed by brutal repression.
    Whereas I felt on firm ground in reading the effects of so-called market transition, I was ironically much more at sea in the area of gender relations and the status of women. Here was a region where female literacy was extremely high but so were birth rates and rates of early, arranged marriages. There were all sorts of paradoxes. The state had implemented a range of policies to integrate women into the labour force but patriarchal relations at the household and community levels were given a longer lease of life in the context of ethnic divisions of labour, with indigenous nationalities remaining predominantly rural and relatively low levels of labour mobility and urbanization. This led me to reflect on the specificities of Soviet modernization in Central Asia and, more specifically, on the effects of modernization without the market on gender relations. What this exposure did, in effect, was to reopen the whole agenda of Women, Islam and the State from a different perspective. This is what I am currently working on.
  • RH: 
    The incorporation of gender into development discourse has come a long way since the 1970s, from the margins to an almost axiomatic inclusion in contemporary development literature, policy and programmes. To what extent has this been an achievement and what do you see as its problems?
  • DK: 
    I think I was relatively uncritical about the ways in which gender was being ‘mainstreamed’ in development theory and practice for a long time. I was, of course, aware of the work of my colleagues who engaged with both the institutional and analytic shortcomings of gender mainstreaming and the various tools and frameworks deployed by development agencies and NGOs. But this was not an area I was actively involved in researching or thinking about. However, this changed when I started working in Afghanistan. First, the fact that the plight of women in Afghanistan was invoked as a humanitarian crisis justifying military intervention in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States raised the uncomfortable spectre of self-serving instrumentalism on the part of global powers. This was happening in a context where the US had previously channelled massive support to mujahidin groups, as part of its Cold War strategy, whose gross human rights abuses and gender-targeted violence had been kept under wraps. Second, seeing the mantras of gender mainstreaming and gender equality applied in a context where there was no state apparatus to speak of and where the process of political settlement between contending factions remained bitter and protracted forced me to reflect on the intended and unintended effects that such aid encounters might have. While women's rights were caught in the cross-fire of ‘real’ politics in Afghanistan, the donor community was conducting business as usual, coming in with their gender training and capacity building packages. This is not to deny the positive outcomes that can come about when donor agencies, government departments and women's NGOs find ways of operating in synergistic ways. However, the problem everywhere seems to revolve around how donor-led efforts and projects relate to local women's groups and movements and whether they only select out a narrow range of clients who speak English and know how to write proposals and reports. When gender mainstreaming becomes a technocratic exercise that fails to address local priorities, aspirations and demands you are likely to get less than healthy outcomes.
  • RH: 
    Parallel to your more critical theoretical work across a range of issues, you have continued to engage with development institutions, undertaking a range of consultancy studies. What types of tensions do you find in bridging the two? In what ways do you find it important or useful for critical scholars, and specifically those concerned with gender, to engage with development in practice?
  • DK: 
    Consultancy work provides unique insights into the workings of the various international development organizations you deal with. Like all bureaucracies they are generally interested in justifying their own programmes and spending their budgets in a timely and, hopefully, effective fashion. Anyone who teaches and does research in the field of development closes an important window to understanding how global governance institutions and international aid operate without this sort of engagement. There has been an active dialogue between international aid donors and academic knowledge providers and activists, which you acknowledge by mentioning the movement of gender from the margins to the mainstream. There are, of course, costs as well as benefits associated to that movement. We have witnessed how the concepts of civil society, social capital and participation have been pressed into service in the context of a neoliberal governance agenda. The same dangers apply to the field of gender which although it is linked to one of the most important social movements of our century risks losing its political edge by translating into a set of tokenistic practices with little political will or muscle behind them, both at the global and local levels. That, however, gives us even more reason for perpetual engagement and critique.
  • RH: 
    The rise of Islamism in the region is a multi-valent and complex phenomena, but one that poses many dilemmas for secular and progressive scholars and activists, including feminists. How has your thinking changed on ways of approaching the phenomena or the dilemmas it poses, over the past decade?
  • DK: 
    Despite the undoubted importance of global and transnational influences, I still think that the only meaningful way to address political Islam is in the context of very specific histories of state–society relations. My earlier work essentially addressed the policies of post-colonial states in their moment of ‘developmentalism’, which is now dead and buried. A process of thorough reflection on how these states have evolved and progressively eroded their legitimacy as providers and guarantors of rights, how various local Islamist platforms arose, how they acquired their popular bases and which sociological realities expedited these transformations is crucial. I would say that my thinking changed only in so far as the realities I was grappling with are fundamentally transformed and in flux, both globally and locally, and therefore require constant reflection and reappraisal.
    There is a growing tendency nowadays to confuse analytic and polemical goals among feminists who are trying to negotiate their way through a maze of contradictions. What to do when a popular movement with a democratic mandate moves to restrict women's existing rights? What sorts of alliances should one be seeking? What strategies to adopt? One tendency is to make virtue of necessity — something Iranian feminists have been doing for years — and attempt to carve spaces within a hegemonic Islamist discourse by articulating new possibilities within it. The difficulties of staying honest within such a perspective must be phenomenal for those who deploy this stance strategically but suspect that there are inherent limits to these attempts and more importantly that, in the last analysis, whose interpretations of Islam and the ‘good society’ prevail will inevitably reflect balances of power in society. For women believers (of whatever faith) who happen to be feminists, on the other hand, the retrieval of an emancipatory agenda in the context of religion is an absolute, existential necessity and they are generally better prepared to accommodate whatever contradiction exists between their commitment to gender equality and what they see as the dictates of their faith. This is where, in the Middle East, a focus on the ‘West’ as a sinful Other (never mind that Evangelical Christians have a most conservative gender agenda) whose notions of equality are fundamentally alien and flawed comes to the rescue and can be pressed into ideological service to dissuade (if not intimidate) those who might be tempted to engage in internal criticism. I realize that this is not a satisfactory answer but I guess I am calling for greater honesty about the world views of women who call themselves feminists — including an acknowledgement of their fundamental incompatibilities — as a first step towards forging broader coalitions where alliances can be formed around very specific issues.

REFERENCES

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  2. REFERENCES
  • Abadan-Unat, Nermin (ed.) with D. Kandiyoti and M. B. Kiray (1981) Women in Turkish Society. Leiden : Brill.
  • Kandiyoti, Deniz (1988) ‘Bargaining with Patriarchy’, Gender and Society 2(3): 27490.
  • Kandiyoti, Deniz (ed.) (1991) Women, Islam and the State. Basingstoke : Macmillan.
  • Kandiyoti, Deniz (ed.) (1996) Gendering the Middle East: Emerging Perspectives. London and New York : 1. B. Tauris.
  • Kandiyoti, Deniz (1998) ‘Gender, Power and Contestation: Rethinking Bargaining with Patriarchy’, in C. Jackson and R. Pearson (eds) Feminist Visions of Development, pp. 13551. London : Routledge.
  • Kandiyoti, Deniz and Ayse Saktanber (eds) (2002) Fragments of Culture: The Everyday of Modern Turkey. London : I. B. Tauris

Rema Hammami is Assistant Professor of Anthropology based in the Women's Studies Institute at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank. She has written extensively on various aspects of gender, nationalism and religiosity in the Palestinian context. In 2006 she was holder of the Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands.