Scholars in Context: Sumercan Bozkurt-Gungen
Jadaliyya's Scholars in Context series consists of Q&As in which scholars of the Middle East describe their research and the paths they took to arrive at it. The series provides a platform for these scholars to highlight the significance of their work, identify the audiences they seek to reach, and outline their future research trajectories, giving readers an in-depth look at the latest research in a given field.
Jadaliyya (J): What is the main focus of your current research and how does it connect to or depart from your previous work?
Sumercan Bozkurt-Gungen (SBG): My research largely focuses on exploring and identifying the interlinkages between development strategies pursued in the Global South in the early twenty-first century and transformations in the world of work and patterns of social reproduction. Despite receiving increasing scholarly attention in recent years, these lines of inquiry have rarely been in conversation with each other. I am currently working on a manuscript that seeks to develop such a conversation by revisiting two prominent development strategies, neoliberalism, and new-developmentalism, through a labor and social reproduction lens and with a focus on the cases of Turkey and Argentina. This work builds on my PhD research, which examined how processes of recovery following the economic crises that erupted in both Turkey and Argentina in 2001 relied on different means of incorporating and disciplining the labor force.
In a previous article, I set out the major contours of the Justice and Development Party’s (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) labor policy agenda in Turkey. I showed how constructing unmediated disciplinary bonds between the individual laborer and the state had been a key facet of the party’s neoliberal authoritarian statecraft. My current work draws on my previous comparative examination of Turkey and Argentina and brings labor regimes and patterns of social reproduction into the analysis of development pathways in the Global South. I aim to contribute to better differentiating between neoliberal and new-developmentalist strategies and their impacts on working and living conditions.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does it address? What audiences would you like to reach, and what kind of impact would you like your research and writing to have?
SBG: My research benefits from and speaks to the fields of labor studies, development studies, global political economy, and comparative politics. More specifically, it contributes towards three growing bodies of literature addressing recent changes in labor control regimes, relations of social reproduction, and development strategies in the Global South. I believe that my comparative examination of development strategies in Turkey and Argentina and how they molded labor regimes and relations of social reproduction would also be of interest for researchers who examine models of development in other parts of the Middle East and Latin America. Through this work, I contribute to attempts that seek not only to better understand and address various challenges in contemporary labor markets related to collective vulnerabilities of working people, but also to create counter-imaginaries for collective empowerment. Therefore, I would like to reach both academic and non-academic audiences who strive to make better sense of changing conditions of work and employment in the Global South and to search for alternative development strategies.
J: What brought you to this work? What was the source of inspiration?
SBG: This work emerged out of my curiosity in understanding the ways in which macro-level development strategies shape patterns of inequality and exploitation. During my graduate studies, it was mind-opening to explore the critical political economy literature on the variations, transformations, and limits of neoliberal labor policy agendas in the Global South. This rich scholarship encouraged me to focus on precarity traps in labor markets, which I realized were intimately linked to the question of how the costs and burdens of social reproduction are distributed among households, communities, employers, and the state. I have derived insights from studies focusing on the social reproduction of the labor force and crises of care, as well as interdisciplinary inquiries into the worlds of work and employment in different parts of the world. I have especially found inspiration in the works of feminist political economists such as Kate Bezanson, Nancy Fraser, and Alessandra Mezzadri, among others.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
SBG: I am writing a book chapter on different uses of the term “decommodification” and its potentials and limits for addressing the intertwined and multiple (social, economic, and ecological) crises of the twenty-first century. The chapter discusses contemporary re-interpretations of Karl Polanyi’s conception of fictitious commodities and embeddedness benefiting from critical labor studies.