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An Ethnographic Moment in Turkey During the Long 1968: Portraits of Anthropologists from the Chicago Circle and Beyond

Ali Sipahi

Özyeğin Üniversitesi, İstanbul, Türkiye

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Sipahi, Ali, 2024. “An Ethnographic Moment in Turkey During the Long 1968: Portraits of Anthropologists from the Chicago Circle and Beyond”, in Bérose - Encyclopédie internationale des histoires de l'anthropologie, Paris.

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Publié dans le cadre du thème de recherche « Horizons anthropologiques, histoires de l’ethnologie et du folklore en Turquie », dirigé par Hande Birkalan-Gedik (Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität, Institut für Kulturanthropologie und Europäische Ethnologie, Frankfurt am Main) et Abdurrahim Ozmen (Dicle Üniversitesi, Diyarbakir).

After World War II, Turkey became one of the most stalwart allies of the U.S. and the anti-communist Western bloc, which catalyzed the increasing transatlantic exchange of people and ideas in economic, political, and cultural matters. In the meantime, the post-war social sciences, especially in the U.S., leaned towards modernization theory and turned its face to successful examples such as Turkey, as seen in the work of political scientists Dankwart A. Rustow and Daniel Lerner (Adalet 2018). The discipline of anthropology followed a similar path. The so-called science of primitive mind forged new interest in “complex,” modernizing societies with written culture such as Turkey. Yet, compared to the disciplines of political science and history, the engagement of Euro-American anthropology with Turkey in the post-war period has been much less documented (Magnarella 2003 ; for the previous century, see Birkalan-Gedik 2019). Our knowledge about the fieldwork experience of international anthropologists from the 1950s to 1980s is somewhat limited to the life and work of British anthropologist Paul Stirling (Shankland and Stirling 1999 ; Stirling 1965), an exception that proves the rule.

In fact, although there was silence after the pioneering fieldwork of Stirling in the late 1940s, anthropologists from the Western academy began to choose Turkey as their field site in increasing numbers from the 1960s on. Some are largely forgotten (e.g., Peter Benedict), others are associated with anthropology but not with Turkey (e.g., Reidar Grønhaug) while another batch are known for their work about Turkey but not necessarily known as anthropologists (e.g., Alan Duben). Hence it is hard to identify “anthropology of Turkey” in the 1960s as an area studies field and see the connections among individual examples in historical context. In this essay, I would like to shed light on a special period, the long 1968, as a preliminary effort to decipher the scholarly networks in the history of anthropology of Turkey.

Between 1966 and 1971, six American and one Norwegian anthropologists conducted year-long ethnographic research in different places in Turkey, with different questions in mind. The University of Chicago professor, Lloyd A. Fallers and his students Michael E. Meeker, Peter Benedict and Alan Duben de facto composed “the Chicago group.” In addition, Paul J. Magnarella from Harvard, June Starr from Berkeley, and Reidar Grønhaug from Bergen were in the field for dissertation research in the same period. Such a concentration of intensive fieldwork by international scholars in Turkey was exceptional. Five of them were even simultaneously in the field in spring of 1967 although there was no team mission in question ; they barely knew each other. It was a particular moment that brought them together : the encounter between the Cold War social sciences and the critical turn in the late 1960s. Thus, understanding this ethnographic moment will contribute to the literatures on Cold War anthropology, politics of fieldwork, and history of American anthropology. In the following paragraphs, I confine myself to short portraits of the anthropologists of Turkey in the long 1968, starting with the Chicago group.

These seven anthropologists undertook long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Turkey almost simultaneously in the late 1960s. Nevertheless, they did not constitute a coherent area studies group (e.g., “anthropologists of Turkey”), and this essay brings them together for the first time. The reason for this seems to be that the modernizing Turkey shined in the 1960s as a promising and suitable field, but remained an “arbitrary location” (Candea 2007) for anthropologists with diverse theoretical and political interests. Even Magnarella and Starr did not frequently (if ever) cross paths in citations although they worked on Turkey for their lifetimes and even shared a particular interest in legal studies. Thus, an in-depth study of scholarly biographies and works of this group will cast light on the multifarious and heterogenous nature of the discipline of anthropology in the 1960s and prevent us from broad-brush generalizations about the Cold War social sciences.

Lloyd A. ‘Tom’ Fallers

Lloyd ‘Tom’ Fallers (1925–1974) was a professor of anthropology and sociology at the University of Chicago. He was an expert on political and legal anthropology of East Africa but in his senior years, in the 1960s, he began working on Turkey as his second major field. In accordance with the popularity of comparative analysis in post-war American academy, he aimed to analyze Turkey’s modernization in light of his Uganda studies. He first visited Turkey in 1962, which was followed by two three-month sojourns in 1964 and 1967, and a year-long ethnographic fieldwork in 1968–69, besides a few short visits. He was particularly interested in ‘Turkish Islam’ and its relationship with political and social modernization. In the meantime, he supervised theses on Turkey by Peter Benedict, Michael E. Meeker, Alan Duben and Bahattin Akşit at Chicago. Unfortunately, he had to fight against cancer intermittently since 1965, which took his life in 1974, at the age of 49. He did not have the opportunity to extensively publish his Turkey research although the archival evidence suggests that he was on the way of composing a major work. His last book, The Social Anthropology of the Nation-State (1974, reprint in 2017), is the only published evidence of his comparative project on Turkey and East Africa.

Fig. 1.
Lloyd A. Fallers
Joan Rosenfels Eggan. Papers, Box 16, Folder 12, Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library. Reproduced with the permission of Daniel Rosenfels.

Michael E. Meeker

Michael E. Meeker (b. 1935) is emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego. He began his academic career in the 1950s in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). During his doctoral study, he left physics to pursue a PhD degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago, where Clifford Geertz was to become particularly inspirational for him. Encouraged by a Turkish friend, he decided to work in Turkey under the supervision of Lloyd Fallers. His wife Gesine and Michael Meeker lived for the duration of the dissertation research in the town of Of in the Black Sea region in 1966–67, studying the role of kinship in local politics. In the 1970s, however, he put aside his Turkey research, learnt Arabic and embarked new studies on Bedouin poetry in North Arabia and on the relationship between pastoralism and patriarchy in Sudan. In the late 1980s, he fortunately resumed his research on Turkey, this time with a historical focus. His last book, A Nation of Empire : The Ottoman Legacy of Turkish Modernity (2002), is a unique product of two field visits twenty years apart (Meeker 2002 ; Sipahi 2021).

Fig. 2. Gesine and Michael Meeker in Of, Turkey, 1967
Gesine and Michael Meeker in Of, Turkey, 1967
Courtesy of Michael Meeker
Fig. 3.
Peter and Cordelia Benedict, Ergani, Turkey, 1963–1964
Courtesy of Cordelia Dahlberg Benedict

Peter Benedict

Peter Benedict (1938–2006) was another advisee of Fallers. Benedict began his graduate studies in archaeology at the University of Chicago and worked in the Oriental Institute with Robert J. Braidwood. He and his wife Cordelia Dahlberg Benedict went to Turkey for the first time in 1963 as part of the joint Istanbul-Chicago Prehistoric Project in southeast Turkey. The field experience sparked their interest in the ongoing social transformation in Anatolia. Thus, for his PhD, Peter Benedict switched to anthropology and worked with Fallers. The Benedict couple conducted ethnographic fieldwork in the town of Ula in western Anatolia in 1967–68. Peter Benedict earned his PhD degree in 1969 and published his dissertation in 1974 with the title of Ula : An Anatolian Town (1974). However, he gradually left the academy and Turkey in the following decades. Between 1970 and 1976, he worked as social science advisor at the Ford Foundation in Ankara, Beirut and Cairo. From 1976 until his retirement in 2001, he served in USAID as mission director in several countries and became a member of the Senior Foreign Service of the US government. Finally, in 2003–2004, he served in occupied Iraq as a member of the RTI International (Sipahi 2022).

Alan Duben

Alan Duben (b. 1943) is the last member of the Chicago group of anthropologists who worked in Turkey in the late 1960s. Duben is emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at Istanbul Bilgi University. He first came to Turkey in 1964 as a Peace Corps Volunteer and lived two years in central and eastern Anatolia. In 1966, he began his PhD in anthropology at the University of Chicago, where he worked with Geertz and Fallers. Between 1969 and 1971, he lived with his wife İpek Aksüğür Duben in Istanbul to conduct dissertation research on urbanization and working-class culture. In the following decades, he taught at NYU (1972–76), Boğaziçi University (1976–90), Hunter College at CUNY (1991–99) and Istanbul Bilgi University (1999–today). His wide range of research interests include family history, urban sociology, statistical methods, kinship, and the elderly. Like Meeker, Duben did not publish his ethnographic dissertation as a book and continued his studies with a historical perspective. Among his many publications, he is the co-author of Istanbul Households : Marriage, Family and Fertility, 1880-1940 (Duben and Behar 1991 ; Duben 2020).

Fig. 4.
Alan Duben
Courtesy of Alan Duben

Reidar Grønhaug

Reidar Grønhaug (1938–2005) is the least known figure in Turkey among the anthropologists from the 1960s, despite his theoretical contributions in the discipline in general. As a student of Fredrik Barth, he conducted his dissertation fieldwork in Antalya on the southwest coast of Anatolia in 1966–1967 on social organization, cultural differentiation and life courses of peasants and pastoral communities. In 1968, he spent a year at the University of Chicago as a fellow of the New Nations Committee, of which Fallers was a founder and later director. His published dissertation Micro-Macro Relations : Social Organization in Antalya, Southern Turkey (1974) remained one of his seminal works, where for the first time he articulated his ideas on processual analysis, the concept of social field, and network theory. However, he did not work on Turkey after the 1970s. As a professor of social anthropology at the University of Bergen, he became one of the leading figures in the history of Norwegian anthropology and trained generations of students at Bergen until the 2000s. Grønhaug was primarily interested in methodological and conceptual issues. His Antalya work was the only ethnographic study about Turkey from the period that adopted structuralist literature and processual analysis.

Fig. 5.
Reidar Grønhaug in Beden village, Antalya, 1966–1967
Courtesy of Kristine and Henrik Grønhaug

Paul J. Magnarella

Paul J. Magnarella is emeritus professor of anthropology and law at the University of Florida. His lifelong relationship with Turkey began as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1963. For two years, he taught English to middle and high school students in the towns of Burdur and Antalya in southwest Turkey. He then pursued an academic career in anthropology with his studies on peasant culture and social change. He conducted ethnographic fieldwork in the town of Susurluk in western Turkey in 1969–70 about the effects of modernization on local social relations and obtained his PhD degree in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University in 1971. While he continued working on Turkey during his entire career, he also earned a doctoral degree in law in 1991, worked with the UN Criminal Tribunal, and founded the Peace and Justice Studies Program at Warren Wilson College. He taught at the University of Vermont (1971–78), the University of Florida (1978–2004) and Warren Wilson College (2004–2014) until his retirement. Besides his books in the subject of human rights, his key publications on Turkey include Tradition and Change in a Turkish Town (1974), The Peasant Venture (1979), and Anatolia’s Loom : Studies in Turkish Culture, Society, Politics and Law (1998).

Fig. 6.
Paul Magnarella
Courtesy of Paul Magnarella
Fig. 7.
June Starr
Courtesy of Stephen Starr

June Starr

June Starr (1934–2003) was professor of cultural anthropology and professor of law. She earned her master’s degree in anthropology at Columbia University (1961) and her doctoral degree at the University of California, Berkeley (1970). She conducted her dissertation fieldwork in Gümüşlük/Bodrum in western Turkey in 1966–67, under the supervision of Laura Nader (Starr 2003). Throughout her entire career, she continued to be engaged with Turkey as one of the pioneers of legal ethnography. She taught at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (1970–1994), the University of Rotterdam’s Erasmus Law School (1981–1983), and the Indiana University School of Law (1994–2000). She also obtained degrees in law at Yale (M.S.L., 1990) and Stanford (J.D., 1992). In addition to her conceptual contributions in the field of legal ethnography, she is the author of Dispute and Settlement in Rural Turkey : An Ethnography of Law (1978) and Law as Metaphor : From Islamic Courts to the Palace of Justice (1992).


I would like to thank Prof. Hande Birkalan-Gedik for encouraging me to write this essay and for her critical comments about its different versions. I also thank the abovementioned scholars and their families for providing the images.

References Cited

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