University of Sussex
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The transformation of state ideology in Turkey: from Kemalism to Islamism

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posted on 2023-06-21, 06:02 authored by Umut Sahverdi
This PhD dissertation evaluates how Turkey’s state ideology has shifted since 1923 and thus abandoned Kemalism. This research argues that Islamism has replaced Kemalism over state ideological transition and transformation phases, spanning from 1923 until present. The theoretical foundation to make this research possible is critical systems theory. Thus, Niklas Luhmann’s approach to systems theory will be discussed and amended with Marxist theory in the relevant areas for this research. Namely these fields are the functional systems education and economy and their intersystematic influence, ideology and systems theory, as well as differentiation, coupling and the modernity in Luhmann as concepts that need to be amended to overcome issues of Luhmann’s systems theory. As a result of such discussion I will present a definition of state ideology in the light of critical systems theory. Furthermore, will I depict a possibility to make use of critical systems theory in societies that do not appear to be applicable for systems theory as a result of their lack of differentiation. Lastly, will I depict a theoretical approach to analyse state ideological changes via transitional and transformational phases. These results will be underlined by the empirical research, which evaluates the unique resources of education programmes from 1923 to present, issued by the Ministry for National Education of Turkey. The empirical approach will focus on ideological shifts in content, perspective and focus of the three school subjects civic, religious and history education on primary and secondary school education levels in Turkey. The empirical analysis will prove that state ideology in Turkey has entered the transition phase away from Kemalism in the early 1950s. I will however argue that this transition is not significant enough to reverse state ideology but ignites the transition to then enter the transformation phase beginning in 1980. I will argue that the transformation phase will see its finalizing years after the AKP came to political power, i.e. after 2002. Thus, the empirical analysis will prove the theory to be valid, which argues that shifts in state ideology appear in transitional and transformational phases. This will be a significant contribution to critical systems theory, as it not only defines state ideology with systems theory as foundation of the methodology, but also prove the theoretical claim with empirical evidence. Furthermore, this dissertation is the first academic research that a) methodologically bases a research of Turkey on critical systems theory and b) by doing so empirically proves that the critical approach to systems theory overcomes the issue of modernity in Luhmann’s systems theory. Lastly, by using unique materials and a comprehensive depiction of state ideological changes ranging from 1923 until today in the civic, religious and history subjects the empirical study will depict that unlike popular understanding of Turkey, Kemalism was abandoned within state infrastructure very early of its Republican era. The empirical material used is unique. Thus, public discourse of a status quo of Kemalist elites within bureaucracy, the state in general and “key deciding” elements of the state (politics, the “deep state”, the economy, the military) are not valid. This dissertation claims and proves the opposite to be true and that Kemalism as state ideology was abandoned in its core since 1950, in order to transform to a different state ideology, which I will argue to be an Islamist state ideology


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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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