Eugenics in 1930s Turkey: the topic of my dissertation; my first introduction into the practice of historical sociology and archival research; and the question whose implications in contemporary global politics did not let me leave it for ten years after I completed my research. (But that is a completely different discussion). The moment I determined the location of eugenic thought in Turkey to be the medical community, I started to delve into the medical journals of the period. Contrary to what most people think, Turkey’s 1930s is a haven of scientific and medical debates. One just have to take a leap of faith, and go out and look for them in the archives. Medicine, in that time and space, was not only an art and a branch of scientific knowledge, but also, and precisely because of those, it was also a community building practice. Doctors (as a generic umbrella that covers physicians, surgeons, and psychiatrists), regardless of their social-cultural positions, ranks (class and military), or their ethnic and religious backgrounds, formed a community through their expertise. In other words, community did not come as an addition. It was integral to the making of medical (aka scientific) expertise. And so was eugenics. Occupying an ambiguous territory located somewhere between the cutting-edge emergent scientific knowledge and a community building guidelines pronounced through hygiene, it acted as the quintessential knowledge-practice of the period.
Thus, the main argument and contribution of that research was not to incorporate Turkey as another case into the history of eugenics. Instead, I dislocated its conventional coordinates from pseudo-science and a corresponding national/ist ideology to being an urban practice, and a boundary-making expertise. (The dissertation describes in detail the urban class conflicts as the constructive niche of eugenics.)
As I started my academic career in Istanbul, and as Turkish academia requires that one should bury their dissertation in order to “get tenure” (very much along the lines of European tradition), the dissertation had never been rewritten as a book. Should you wish to access it in its dissertation form, please go to: here.
If you want to read the two articles that came out of, here they are:
Eugenics for the Doctors: Medicine and Social Control in 1930s Turkey (2010)
Image of the Self-Sacrificing Doctor: Medicine, Taxes, and Unemployment in 1930s Turkey (2015)