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Economic Liberalization and Class Dynamics in Turkey: New Business Groups and Islamic Mobilization

The growth of new capitalist classes since the 1980s has transformed social stratification, multi-party politics and the international political orientation of Turkey. New business groups energized by Islam have facilitated much-needed class mobility. In this process, there has also emerged a confrontational split in middle-class positions between Islamic and secular political outlooks. These new middle classes are engaged in promoting Islam as a strategic resource in the class politics of Turkey and seek protection from the negative effects of market capitalism. More dramatically, these new capitalist classes have redefined the allocation of markets and the distribution of assets while they have increased opportunities for their affiliated groups at home and in foreign markets. However, the paradox between modernity and authenticity remains unresolved for Turkey’s old middle classes and the new pious elite alike. Although the Islamic-leaning business groups have become the winners of the new regime, they have increasingly lost their cutting-edge idealism and originality and are being “normalized” as the new establishment.

 

Turkish society, economy, and politics have been going through fundamental changes since the country shifted from state-centered import substitution policies to economic liberalization. As of the early 1980s, the Özal government began to promote a culture of entrepreneurship. Scholars have long examined the political and economic implications of this change. What has not been clearly analyzed, however, is how these transformations fundamentally altered the class dynamics. In this article, we argue that the growth of new capitalist classes transformed social stratification, multi-party politics and the international political orientation of the country. New business groups energized by Islam have facilitated much needed class mobility. In this process, there also emerged a confrontational split in middle class positions between Islamic versus secular political outlooks. The expansion of new middle classes fuelled economic growth, industrial diffusion to Anatolian towns, and a rapid rise in export capacity. More dramatically, these new capitalist classes redefined the allocation of markets and the distribution of assets while they expanded opportunities for their affiliated groups at home and in foreign markets.

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