Distinction versus Recognition: Making Sense of the Tophane Incidents in the Context of Gentrification

  • Mertcan Ozturk

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis provides a class-based interpretation of social conflicts in contemporary Turkey, by focusing on a particular residential area of Istanbul, called Tophane. Tophane provides a particularly interesting context for the study of everyday social conflicts, for two main reasons. Firstly, it was home to a chain of well-publicised assaults against art galleries, known as the 'Tophane incidents', between 2010 and 2016. Secondly, as a gentrified neighbourhood Tophane hosts both working classes who had migrated to urban areas and the urban middle classes, two different social groups between which there is believed to be an Islamist-secular tension that has for too long marked political discussions in Turkey. The thesis studies whether this politico-cultural tension manifests as readable social symptoms, and on a theoretical level argues for the utility of combining Pierre Bourdieu's concept of the 'struggle for distinction' (1984) with Axel Honneth's concept of the 'struggle for recognition' (1995). These concepts are primarily used in dialogue with the original empirical data, drawn from a four-month period of ethnographic research that employed a combination of participant observation and semi-structured interviews in order to explore the everyday social conflicts present in a neighbourhood undergoing gentrification. The main finding is that the long-standing conflict stems from a lack of social interaction between the main groups in Tophane: culturally subaltern local residents and cultivated newcomers. Hence, this thesis makes a distinction between the factors that cause the social conflict and the factors that make it visible. While it utilises struggle for distinction to thematise the ways in which newcomers endeavour to transform arguably neutral class differences into recognised distinctions to claim superiority, the thesis employs struggle for recognition to account for why the lack of social interaction leads local residents to undergo such social sufferings as moral judgements, stigmatisations and ill-treatments. The thesis accordingly argues that, although the Tophane incidents appear to result from the reaction of locals, such acts of violence are outcomes of the broader yet implicit social conflict which essentially arises out of the symbolic domination that newcomers subject local residents to as a result of struggling for distinction.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorGemma Edwards (Supervisor) & Ian Bruff (Supervisor)


  • secular-Islamic polarisation
  • Axel Honneth
  • daily class struggles
  • social interactions and conflicts
  • Pierre Bourdieu

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