ATASeminars: "Cheap Labor in Anatolia: Social Values Surrounding Consent and Coercion at the Workplace" by Ceren Deniz



The increasing export revenues of small and medium-size enterprises from the 1990s onwards in some Anatolian provinces, popularly known as “Anatolian Tigers”, received considerable attention as new centres of industry and their social, political and economic background and impact have been hotly debated in social sciences. Despite the topic has become controversial in many aspects, one thing that all scholars agree is that these local industries rely heavily on cheap labour, alongside familial organization and kin-based networks. Based on twelve-month ethnographic research in one of the least popular local industries in Çorum, this presentation aims to unpack the social production and reproduction of the workforce and their social values by zooming into the everyday life at an exporting manufacture company to shed light on the context in which ‘cheap labour’ is experienced by workers in Anatolia. Firstly, I am going to illustrate how the roles and obligations in a family or a kin group are stretched paternalistically to include non-family employees through various incentives, favourable working conditions, and Islamic and non-Islamic rituals at the workplace. While paternalistic provisioning can help workers identify with the workplaces and their employers, generate consent up to a certain level, as well as compensate for low wages, it offers only an incomplete depiction of how ideology, culture and power operate in the social life of a workplace. Hence, my second aim is to show the other side of the coin by delving into the ways which employers persuade and coerce workers to work for longer hours and lower wages in more effective ways, through rules, regulations, and modern and not-so-modern management techniques. These include bells, cameras, face-scanners, worksheets, as well as scolding, treats, name-calling, ambiguous treatment and shaming. Finally, I will demonstrate how coercion and consent are perceived, expressed and exercised with reference to particular social values such as respect, loyalty, gratitude and deservingness. Rather than classifying the labour regime as hegemonic or despotic, I focus on what is perceived as coercive or consensual and try to understand the relationship between them. I argue that consent might be due to deeply internalized social norms and values, might be a result of a belief in the fairness of the bosses and/or might be a strategic response to the daily threats of being laid off. In such contexts, coercion and consent coexist within the locally specific realm of social values.


Short Biography:

Ceren Deniz is a social anthropologist specialized in anthropology of work and labour, and social policy and NGO research. She has a bachelor’s degree from Middle Eastern Technical University in Sociology and a master’s degree from Boğaziçi University in Modern Turkish History. She has worked as a social policy researcher in several nationally and internationally funded projects in Turkey on women’s and youth (un)employment and related state policies between 2011 and 2014. She has carried out research within the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Social Anthropology between 2014 and 2018 as a part of the European Research Council project “Realising Eurasia: Civilisation and Moral Economy in the 21st Century”. She received her PhD degree in Social Anthropology at Martin Luther University, Halle/Saale, Germany in 2020 with her dissertation “The Formation of Provincial Capital, Value Regimes and The Politics of Labour in Anatolia”. She worked as an external lecturer teaching Economic Anthropology at Martin Luther University. Currently, she is an associate member of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Research Network “Contemporary History of Turkey" at the University of Duisburg-Essen and a project worker in a NGO responsible for supporting migrant women’s access to labour market in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany.