Ülker Sözen

Ülker Sözen received her PhD in Sociology from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Turkey in 2017. Her dissertation explored the identity revival and the entanglement of culture and politics among the Dersimli people. She studied Sociology at Boğaziçi University and then completed her master’s degree in the Comparative Studies in History and Society (CSHS) programme at Koç University. 

Ülker had worked for the public university in Tunceli (formerly known as Dersim) for six years until being dismissed from her position in 2017 via statuary decree along with hundreds of ‘Academics for Peace’ in Turkey. She is one of the signatories of the Peace Petition issued in January 2016. She is a member of BİRARADA, a solidarity academy association established by dismissed peace academics in Istanbul. Currently, she volunteers at BİRARADA and works as a steering committee member of the “Promoting Gender Equality via the Network of Solidarity Academies” project conducted by ADA, the solidarity academy cooperative in Ankara, and supported by BİRARADA.  

Research Project

My project seeks to analyze the ways in which left-wing politics have engaged with the NGO form in Turkey since the early 2000s by focusing on the civil society organizations working on human rights  and advocacy, and donor bodies. My experiences and observations during the self-organization of dismissed peace academics motivated me to study this topic. The dilemmas and internal debates that we have been going through lead me to ponder the complications of NGO-ization, relations with donor organizations, and the dependency on short-term grants which creates financial insecurity and stress.    

During the first decade of the 2000s, as part of Turkey’s buoyant EU accession bid, the state relaxed regulations over the procurement of EU funds and facilitated an enabling environment for NGOs. At that time, there were vocal members of the left critical of the notion of “civil society” and denouncing the NGO-ization trend for causing the co-option of political activism in line with neoliberal agendas and the interests of the “imperialist” or “neo-colonialist” power blocks like the EU. 

After the Gezi Park Protests and the coup attempt in 2016, authoritarian politics became heightened in Turkey and political pressures over the opposing NGOs were aggravated, whereby many of them were shut down and some of their members were arrested. Consequently, left-wing NGOs working in the fields of human rights and advocacy have experienced a downturn in the last several years following the global trend of shrinking civil spaces. Nonetheless, the NGO sector dependent on external grants continues to be a major outlet for political activism and economic subsistence in Turkey for the left-wing opposition. 

In addition to examining the drawbacks of NGO-ization such as professionalization, projectification of activism, distancing from grassroots politics, and asymmetrical relations with donors, this project also aims at focusing on the recent history of Turkey and scrutinizing the ways in which the Left has processed and debated the concept of “civil society” and the NGO form in the last two decades.


Sözen, Ülker. “Culture, Politics and Contested Identity among the “Kurdish” Alevis of Dersim:  The Case of the Munzur Culture and Nature Festival”, Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies 6, no. 2 (2019): 63-76. http://www.ejecs.org/index.php/JECS/article/view/196/pdf

Sözen, Ülker. “Sembollerde Cemaati Aramak ve Kimliği Yeniden Kurmak: Dersim’de Hafiza, Yerellik ve Siyaset” [Seeking Community and Reconstituting Identity: Memory, Locality, and Politics in Dersim], Praksis 43, no. 3 (2016): 553-581. https://www.academia.edu/31466626 

Sözen, Ülker. “Etnik Kimlik Siyaseti ve Festivaller: Munzur Festivali’nde Kolektif Aidiyetlerin Yeniden Üretimi ve Kimliğin Çatışmalı Görünümleri” [Ethnic Identity Politics and Festivals: Reproduction of Collective Belongings and Contested Manifestations of Identity in the Munzur Festival], MSGSÜ Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi 12, (2015): 118-138. https://www.academia.edu/33970147/MSGS%C3%9C_Sosyal_Bilimler_Dergisi_12._Say%C4%B1_MSGS%C3%9C_Journal_of_Social_Sciences_Issue_12

Sözen, Ülker. “Young, Enduring, and Patient: Gendered Experiences of the Female Retail Workers in İstanbul’s Shopping Malls”, Kadin/Woman 2000 14, no. 2 (2013): 93-116. https://www.academia.edu/6984206/Young_Enduring_and_Patient_Gendered_Experiences_of_the_Female_Retail_Workers_in_%C4%B0stanbul_s_Shopping_Mall

All Publications from Ülker Sözen:

  • Fragmentary Governance of the COVID-19 Crisis in Turkey and Contradictions of the AKP Regime

    Turkey has been experiencing difficult times in the last several years. On the one hand, after the failed coup attempt in 2016, authoritarian politics have intensified at the hands of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government that has been in power since 2002. On the other, the economy entered into a currency and debt crisis in 2018 and suffers under excessive current account deficits and household indebtedness. Correspondingly, social polarization and the erosion of democratic norms have been growing in tandem with financial fragility and high unemployment rates.

  • “We don’t keep quiet, we are not afraid, we don’t obey”

    Femicides stand out as one of the biggest social problems in Turkey today causing a widespread and pronounced public reaction. The femicide cases are frequently on the news exploited by mainstream media with graphic coverage. The names of murdered women and pleas for retribution regularly become trending topic on Twitter. The outrage against femicides is expressive of the liberalizing worldviews and gender ideology in Turkish society while also conveying the popular contention against the government’s overall authoritarian politics along with its efforts for the recomposition of patriarchy.

  • How to Achieve Transnational Solidarity in the Age of Neoliberal Authoritarianism and Border Securitization?

    In this essay, I want to address the complications stemming from the political economy of transnational solidarity networks and the power asymmetry in them, mainly through discussing the Turkish case. Neoliberal globalization and its political geography built upon colonial divisions have become the framework for cross-national solidarity as well as the recent authoritarian turn, while at the same time bringing in structural setbacks to the former. Furthermore, the recent migration “crises”, that are caused by imperialist interventions, have been met with heightened border securitization in the Global North, limiting the field for international human rights activism. This introduces a serious additional challenge to the conception and practice of transnational solidarity.

  • Dossier | Authoritarianism and Counter-Strategies in the Classroom: The Pedagogy of Collective Learning Across Geographies

    This dossier presents a glimpse of the course participants’ outputs at the end of the classes and includes their reflections and case studies on different aspects of authoritarianism, neoliberal governance, the effects of colonialism, and counter-movements that take place in a variety of settings

  • DOSSIER | „New Faces of Authoritarianism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Global South“

    In the summer semester of 2022, IRGAC fellows taught a course titled “New Faces of Authoritarianism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Global South”. This dossier presents contributions by the course participants composed of their essays discussing conceptual issues and case studies on different topics regarding authoritarianism and counter-movements

  • State and Society in Turkey after the Earthquakes: Initial Reflections

    In this two-part essay, Ülker Sözen lay out her initial observations and reflections about the state and society's responses in the aftermath of the massive disaster in Turkey

  • Queer-feminist strategies and transnational solidarity against gender-based violence

    There is a lot to learn from and find inspiration in the strategies, perspectives, and experiences of queer and feminist struggles which manage to influence and bring together diverse counter-hegemonic actors