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Chapter 4 describes the debates that took place in the press immediately after the Balkan Wars (1912–13), which drew attention to the relationship between new concepts of the able body and the militarization of discourses of productivity. In the first Balkan War, the Ottoman armies were soundly defeated, and the empire lost its last landholdings in the Balkans. The perceived infirmities of the “Ottoman body” became a common thread in social critiques calling for all-out mobilization. This chapter traces the relationship between conceptualizations of the healthy, productive, and able body and discourses on the formation of an ideal citizen, as articulated by moralists, journalists, public figures, and memoirists of the Balkan Wars. I expose how calls for a productive body militarized a social issue during a time when Ottomans faced imminent threats of invasion. The militarization that characterized the last decade of the Ottoman Empire and the first decades of the Turkish Republic cannot be understood without first considering the process by which the body of the citizen became a site of national anxiety.
In 1843, just four years after the proclamation of the Imperial Edict of Gülhane, which launched the Ottoman Empire into a century of accelerated reform, an unsigned editorial appeared in Ceride-i Havadis, the first semi-official newspaper of the empire.1 The anonymous author stated that, despite the fact that the Ottoman realms possessed “the most pleasant weather, fertile lands, and a population smarter than other climatic zones,” the other regions, where, according to him, the weather is harsh (vahim), and people are stupid (gabi), were militarily victorious and much more productive.2 Perplexed and dismayed by this predicament, the author concluded that the Ottoman Empire’s economic and military weaknesses could be ascribed to “its people’s lack of effort and ardor (sa’y u gayret).” The author believed that the Ottomans wasted their lives in vain and raised their children in “utter laziness.” They neither helped themselves nor benefited their society (halkın işine yaramak).
Neither laziness nor its condemnation are new inventions, however, perceiving laziness as a social condition that afflicts a 'nation' is. In the early modern era, Ottoman political treatises did not regard the people as the source of the state's problems. Yet in the nineteenth century, as the imperial ideology of Ottomanism and modern discourses of citizenship spread, so did the understanding of laziness as a social disease that the 'Ottoman nation' needed to eradicate. Asking what we can learn about Ottoman history over the long nineteenth-century by looking closely into the contested and shifting boundaries of the laziness - productivity binary, Melis Hafez explores how 'laziness' can be used to understand emerging civic culture and its exclusionary practices in the Ottoman Empire. A polyphonic involvement of moralists, intellectuals, polemicists, novelists, bureaucrats, and, to an extent, the public reveals the complexities and ambiguities of this multifaceted cultural transformation. Using a wide variety of sources, this book explores the sustained anxiety about productivity that generated numerous reforms as well as new understandings of morality, subjectivity, citizenship, and nationhood among the Ottomans.
Chapter 2 explores how the anxiety of productivity played out in the bureaucratic system, by focusing on how laziness and inefficiency were criminalized in the Ottoman bureaucracy from the late nineteenth century until the end of World War I. This chapter considers the daily practices of the Ottoman reform period as central to the construction of a culture of productivity, rather than attributing causality to an emulation of certain idealized notions of the “West.” A plethora of documents (personnel records, bills, memorandums, and petitions, along with accounts by and about officeholders) show how in these empire-wide offices Ottoman citizens, bureaucrats and laypeople alike, experienced the anxiety of efficiency and modern practices of work. The personnel files document the severe responses meted out to those deemed lazy, slow, and careless. In turn, bureaucrats disputed these accusations through legal means. These processes reveal a contested realm over the expectations and actual performance of duties from the perspective of both the state and its employees.
The Ottoman Empire’s transition into more narrowly defined nation-states after World War I introduced new facets to the already established culture of productivity. Focusing mainly on the Republic of Turkey, the Epilogue raises several issues about the relationship between the culture of productivity, the exclusionary discourses and practices that developed with it in the long nineteenth century, and the reforms implemented by nation-states in the post-Ottoman Middle East. The Turkish Republic imposed drastic sociopolitical reforms, including the displacement and termination of several post-Ottoman institutions and social groups, including seminary schools, Sufi lodges, and the Muslim scholarly class (ulema). Even elements of Ottoman high culture did not escape culpability. In the 1930s, with the belief that it induced lethargy, Ottoman-style music was banned from the public radio. Behind the justification and implementation of such radical reforms in the Turkish Republic stood a century-old unexplored history of the modern anxiety about the productivity of every citizen in the age of nation-states.
Chapter 3 examines post-1873 depression-era Ottoman novels and plays that articulate a language of difference by juxtaposing the success of industrious heroes against the failure of consumerist dandy anti-heroes. The representation of industrious and dandy characters in fin-de-siècle Istanbul shows the interconnectedness and interdependence between novels and the discourses and practices of productivity, in sharing the same new moral universe. Differing from the normative and distant language of the morality authors, or the authoritative and punitive language of the bureaucratic reforms explored in Chapters 1 and 2, the playful voices of novelists displayed dynamic and at times ambivalent representations of the idle and dandy, as an alternate, yet socially undesirable form of self-fashioning. By pitting a hardworking and upwardly mobile hero against the dandy anti-hero, novels thematized the period’s concern with valuing work as a constitutive element of character and nation-building, and also drew boundaries that defined who was and was not included in the nation. As a forum in which citizenship was debated, fiction established difference using ridicule, marginalization, and even criminalization as a social intervention.
Chapter 5 focuses on the elusive boundary between the lazy and the industrious in the post-1908 Young Turk era. In this tumultuous period, the Ottoman culture producers employed the concepts of work and laziness to further develop the exclusionary language characteristic of the culture of productivity against their rivals. Surveying political pamphlets, journals, memoirs, and the daily press, this chapter shows how various ideological camps entered into a cultural struggle over who should be regarded as lazy and useless based on a putative association with “super Westernization” or with “anti-progressivism.” In the relatively open political atmosphere immediately following the 1908 revolution, the polemics between various political agents, usually dubbed “Westernists” and “Islamists,” signalled a vital debate on the ideal citizen required by the nation. Their views of these issues diverged greatly, as did the question of who should be labeled lazy and unproductive. Such labels marshaled the exclusionary language that has been in development, revealing a variety of models of reform in the public sphere and how each one regarded the other as the cause of laziness.
Chapter 1 examines the moralization of work and stigmatization of laziness in the works of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ottoman moralists between the first and the second constitutional period (the 1870s to 1908). At the center of this chapter are Ottoman morality texts, a genre, yet to be fully explored, reconfigured in the nineteenth century. These texts articulated many emerging discourses and anxieties of the Ottoman reform period on a normative level. After an overview of the question of laziness in Ottoman thinking, attention is drawn to how a novel kind of knowledge was produced in the field of morality, expressing a new subjectivity in relation to modern citizenship; the normative nature of morality texts and the way these texts moralized, nationalized, and even Islamized productivity is then studied. Ottoman moralists identified certain beliefs and practices as handicaps for productivity and declared them un-Islamic and antithetical to progress. This chapter rethinks the construction of morality and Islamic knowledge in modern times, by examining deontological discourses on work that later produced the neologism of the “Islamic work ethic.”
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