The Primacy of Space in Politics: Bargaining Rights, Freedom and Power in an İstanbul Neighborhood


This article explores and theorizes the ways in which urban space and political contestations are mapped onto each other. The ethnography illustrates the multifaceted transformations in a notoriously secularist neighborhood of İstanbul, Teşvikiye, as it first turns into a high‐consumption locality in the post‐1980s, then into a high‐conflict urban space in the new millennium on the arrival of Muslim high‐spenders, particularly headscarved women. Aiming to fill the gap left by the absence of spatial analysis from political science and political sociology, I argue that the urban neighborhood becomes central for political contestation when both government and opposition fail to protect and secure liberties and rights. Now that devout Muslims are integrated into highly contested urban sites and share bourgeois lifestyles, ordinary people act in defense of their ‘sphere’ of freedom and privacy. This new territoriality is largely symptomatic of increasing fears of losing freedom, privacy and social status. This spatial defensiveness is reinforced by people’s decreasing trust in, and increasing demands from, the state for the protection and security of their rights and liberties. My overarching argument is that exclusive attention to the bipolar clash between devout Muslims and secularists under the rubric of ‘neighborhood wars’ obscures multipolar conflicts around the discontents stemming from authoritarianism and democratization.