Balconies, windows, and doorways: The architecture of living difference among Alevi and Sunni neighbors in urban Turkey


Balconies, windows, and doorways: The architecture of living difference among Alevi and Sunni neighbors in urban Turkey

Banu Gökarıksel

Type of Event: Lecture and Discussion
Presenter: Banu Gökarıksel, Department of Geography, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

March 1, 2021
5:00 pm

While encounters with strangers in public spaces have been central to ideas about the politics of difference, this paper argues for the ethical and political significance of encounters among neighbors that take place within the liminal, porous, and ambiguously public/private spaces of neighborhoods.  Drawing on research we conducted between 2013 and 2016, our study focuses on the dynamic entanglements of everyday relations between Alevi and Sunni neighbours living in three cities: Istanbul, Konya, and Malatya. There is much at stake in these relations in Sunni-majority Turkey, where Alevis have been at once recognized in their similarity and disavowed and persecuted in their difference. In this paper, we analyze how the unique materiality of the spaces of and between neighbors in these cities provides possibilities for recognizing and responding to sectarian differences. Balconies, windows, and doorways in apartment buildings provide uncertain boundaries between interiority/exteriority that generate intimacy and distance, privacy and exposure at once. In our research, participant narratives show how neighbors navigate this complex spatiality by regulating the visibilities, sounds, and smells of their everyday lives, keeping or sharing secrets, and cultivating varying degrees of closeness. We argue that the affective architecture of neighborhood life creates multiple openings for receptive ethical engagement with difference among neighbors. However, there are also anxious antagonisms that exacerbate the precarity of marginalized populations such as Alevis who live in fear of their neighbors. By centering the spatiality of neighbors and neighborhoods, our analysis contributes to understanding the intimacies, entanglements, and estrangements of living difference at a time of heightened insecurity for minoritized groups in Turkey and globally.

Co-sponsored by the Departments of Geography, History, and Interior Architecture, and the Muslim Student Association. Made possible by generous support from the International Program Center Kohler Fund.


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