By Dilek Karal
Although the 2012 Life Trends and Attitudes Research analyses by Ipsos KMG states the obvious case to some, these analyses contain important facts to identify characteristics of society and further the understanding of social tendencies in Turkey. The research emphasizes the presence of various social classes by assembling them into groups, from new conservatives to the poor. Furthermore, a prior aspect that appears in media from this research is “the changing character of the middle class” in Turkey.
The importance of the middle class comes from its definition as a “change supporter” or “leading group” in countries. Generally, while the lower social classes are farther from the means of change, the middle class becomes a significant group for the dominant ideology through its status, expectations, and being embedded in social life. If it is kept in mind, one of the early development targets prioritized by the Republic was the creation of a middle class. As a result, it would be useful to analyze the transformation of the middle class in Turkey.
Today, the middle class in Turkey is beginning to be described as a group which has a tendency to consume not only basic goods, but also luxury ones. In this context, the research by Ipsos KMG describes the models of cars, features of relatively luxurious consumption goods like TV and so on, shopping habits, frequency of foreign travels and consumption of branded goods as significant indicators of middle class tendencies. According to these criteria, 59% of Turkey’s population is considered middle class.
As seen in the social research, the middle class is just like a photograph reminiscent of a country’s tendencies. The most common hobbies are watching TV, visiting relatives, cooking, or meeting with friends. However, middle class members do not read much, are not interested in opera or theatre, and still consider touring abroad to be a luxury activity. The research also emphasizes that only 13% of middle class members have a passport.
The research by Ipsos KMG separates the middle class into two: “new conservatives” and the “traditional middle class.” New conservatives are described as being pleased with the general situation of the country, and they highly emphasize traditional aspects of Turkey. The “newness” of these conservatives despite the traditional middle class stems from their support for issues such as democratic opening and the Kurdish issue. On the other hand, traditional middle class are pleased with the current economy of Turkey whereas they do not support political tendencies of the government. This group does not support democratic opening and Kurdish language education as new conservatives do. Another question which comes to mind herein is the approach of the middle class to the “status of women.” This class promotes female participation in social and professional life on one condition only: “She must ask for permission from her husband.”
The research also emphasizes the traditional nationalists, anxious/reactively moderns, and the poor. These groups who are not pleased with the general political landscape and feel rejected differ from conservatives. For instance anxious moderns who consist of 13 % of the society are totally critical of the current situation of the state and politics. They do not support issues at stake such as democratic opening or Kurdish language education. Nearly as a bloc they support main opposition party. On the other hand, the poor who cannot integrate into the system despite the expansion of the middle class is equal to 13% of the population. Besides this, the groups most apt in modern consumption are “new conservatives” and the anxious /reactively modern.
Toward a Non-Anxious Modernity
If we assess the research data, we can say that dominant paradigm in Turkish understanding of modernity is prevalent in this very study as well. In Turkish context modernity is still defined as a concept referring to some traditional social classes instead of taking into account the changing dynamics of the society. In this context, paradoxically, a manner which is reactive to democratic expansion and education in the native language could be perceived as suited to modernity. Whereas, support for social change in terms of these dynamics can be identified with conservatism since people who support these values also define themselves with a reference to traditional values. However, to analyze the change it had better notice the differentiation in life styles, expectations and also social mobility among social classes, without dwelling on the classical structures of these groups. Consequently, I believe it is not wrong to talk about a non-anxious modernity.
On the other hand, the middle class in Turkey, contrary to expectations, developed a favorable attitude toward the status quo instead of change. Apparently, this is the main reason why the research does not conform to the patterns in our minds. It is difficult to say that the support for status quo is surprising in the short term. But in the long term, it is expected that the economic development of the middle class, democratization and expansions in issues like human rights would be indispensable; and so there may be a change seen in parallel with growing expectations. However, it has to be said that change will be possible only if the middle class feels confident. It would be possible after one or two generations, as such a group might aim at higher goals in human rights, arts and education. As the research currently notes, high-level living standards would not be a luxury but an ineluctable need for this new generation, members of which have parents maintaining their lives in a narrow way, not interested in opera or theatre, regarding foreign trips as luxuries, and having relatives only in nearby towns or villages. Maybe that time, we will withdraw our monophonic discourse and step to a more polyphonic rhythm and ask: “Where is Turkey going?”
USAK Center for Social Studies