Melehat Kutun is a Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung fellow at the International Research Group on Authoritarianism and Counter-Strategies. She has written her habilitation project at Kassel University. She received her PhD from Gazi University, Ankara. She was a visiting PhD student at University of York (2009-10) where she returned as a researcher (2015-16). She has also been a researcher at the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences and the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris (2017).
She worked as a research assistant at Gazi University and as an assistant professor at Mersin University (2003-2016). She was a Philipp Schwartz Fellow at Universität Kassel (2017-20) and senior Einstein fellow at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (2020-2022). Her publications focus on contemporary politics in Turkey, critical state theories, open-Marxsizm and critical gender studies and recently abortion politics. She is also a member of the editorial board of Praksis Journal and of the Academics for Peace Germany Initiative.
Research Project: The legitimization of anti-abortion politics in Turkey: A right-wing populist response to the crisis in neoliberalism
Background and the questions of the research project
At the congress of the women’s branch of his party, the president of Turkey, Erdogan, evoked campaigns such as family planning by emphasizing that abortion is murder, a sin and an international conspiracy: “I know that these were planned, and I know that these are steps taken to prevent the country’s population from increasing. In this way, the population of this country is being stopped somewhere. I see abortion as murder.… I also address some circles and members of the media who oppose my statements.… We must fight against this together. We are in a position where we know that there is an insidious plan to erase this nation from the world stage, we should never give credit to these games” (Erdogan, 2012a).
On the other hand, family-centred and anti-abortion politics, which played only a small role during the AKP’s first term (2002–2007), started to become a more central topic following the 2010 crisis in neoliberalism due to deepening economic, political and ideological contradictions and conflicts. The AKP replaced its moderate Islam strategy, which it had claimed would appeal to a broad constituency, including non-Muslims and non-believers, with Sunni-Islam–based positions to overcome these crises by polarizing society and consolidating its core voting bloc.
I claim that the reason for recent right-wing trends in anti-abortion politics, contrarily to the prevailing literature, is more than the backlash of a conservative religious or cultural politics which focuses on bioethics or on the personhood and rights of the foetus. To demonstrate this, I will historize abortion politics by deciphering the intersectional gender dimension of the state and indicate how recent anti-abortion politics is directly relatable with the cultural, political, ideological crisis in neoliberalism regarding family, population and care (see Fraser, 2017; Sears, 2017; Hülagü, 2021; Kutun, 2022) and the struggle between opposing parts of society (see Kutun, 2021; Yilmaz, 2018).
I will go beyond not only the antagonism between the defenceless foetus’ right to life and women’s right to “choose” and control their own bodies (Case, 2015; Hennig, 2014; Koralewska & Zielińska, 2021) but also the gender equality and freedom of expression discussions (Ulbrich, 2021; Datta, 2018; Hussein, Cottingham, Nowicka & Kismodi, 2018; Dayi, 2019; Siegel, 1995). I will aim not only to examine why and how the Islamic right-wing populist government in Turkey penetrates society in the case of anti-abortion politics, but also to furnish an understanding of the intersectional gender dimension of the current state form.
The purpose of the research project has two-fold: i) To understand how and what degree the anti-abortion politics influence the understanding of the interplay between material and symbolic state violence at the case of recent abortion politics in Turkey. ii) To contribute to the theoretical, methodological and empirical bridge between feminist/materialist state theory and feminist/critical political economy by focusing on neoliberal authoritarianism, Islamic right-wing populism and anti-abortion politics.
The study points at gaps in the current literature, not only concerning why and how state violence is socially embedded in the female body, and how pressures exerted on the political habitus effect and transform the social and economic in the case of abortion politics, but also considering how state violence has been legitimized utilizing symbolic violence in the response of Islamic right wing-populism.