This post was written by Ebru Kurt Ozman.
On October 20, 2022, I presented my work on authoritarian entrepreneurial governance to the UGoveRN network. My research investigates the relationship of state entrepreneurialism and self-organisation of policy networks in spatial governance, through “mega” urban projects. I have been working on this topic already for a few years now in Istanbul where I was trained as an urban planner at Istanbul Technical University.
I have been living and working in Istanbul for years and I based my PhD topic on my lived experience. I noticed that even though entrepreneurial public policy agenda displays characteristics of a top-down and hierarchical governance approach, local policy networks initiated by urban residents mushroom everywhere in the form of self-organised social bodies throughout the city.
Thus, I decided to work on analysing the relationship of increasingly authoritarian entrepreneurial state and local networks in Istanbul. In this framework, my purpose is to understand what creates space for self-organised social bodies to make their voices heard; and what kind of configurations taking place in the institutional structure to accommodate it. With respect to the aim, mega projects enable me to observe the contrasts between the state’s ‘market-like entrepreneurial activities’ and the networks in the effort of self-existence. In doing so, uncertainties’ reflections and disregarded environment and urban residents make the issue urgent to investigate. Taksim Gezi Park protests in May 2013, which spread to the whole country in a very short time despite the increasing authoritarian intervention of the state, are one of the striking examples that support this context.
To select case studies among a large number and various types of projects, I used a two-step approach. First is the institutional analysis conducted by Kuyucu (2018). This analysis provided me trajectories regarding ‘transformation of urban transformation’ in Turkey in terms of institutional and legal conflicts. Secondly, considering location, time-period, legislation and transformation frame, I selected 2 projects as case studies which are Sarıyer Derbent Urban Transformation Project (announced in 2004) and Fikirtepe Urban Transformation Project (announced in 2010) (Figure 1).
Descriptive analysis of the projects and my preliminary interviews showed me that there is a lot to untangle. Especially the narratives of residents are important to analyse, since they show how people live in the context of an entrepreneurial state, and how the story/reality is beyond the official process of project development. I realized that all the processes should be told as striking/shocking as it has happened through the eyes of the involved actors, with well-fitting concepts, just as the director and writer Ali Vatansever narrates in the movie “Saf” (2018), but in a written form.
In fact, both cases are examples of the state’s efforts to gain profit from urban land through large-scale regeneration projects by using the gaps in urban regulations and taking advantage of them. Furthermore, the state aims to make society feel its authority through these projects. But despite the same national context or even the same urban context, these two stories differ significantly from each other.
The story of Derbent takes place in the European side of the city. The Derbent Urban Transformation Project represents the case of the period in which certain powers were assigned to local governments to act. Although there were institutional conflicts, one can monitor the strengthening and struggling traces of local networks in this case in which residents organised themselves under difficult conditions and fought back.
The story of Fikirtepe takes place in the Asian/Anatolian side of the city. The case of Fikirtepe Urban Transformation Project stands as a more complicated long story throughout time. In fact, it can be engraved in our minds with the story of “a single house” (Figure 2) completely surrounded by the construction site, rebelled alone for 3-years as a symbol of the resistance in the area. That gives strong clues on how the state transformed by entrepreneurial policy agenda has left as much space as a single house to local networks / inhabitant / social bodies of the area to exist.
I would like to end by promising to give sections from different stages of my thesis in further blogposts. And I leave 4 questions just below to have chance thinking more on the issue. Let’s see how the questions and the whole journey will evolve!
1. To what extent does the concept of “state entrepreneurialism” work in a similar way in different contexts?
2. What are the trajectories in the ‘transformation of urban transformation’ in different geographies from ‘state entrepreneurialism’ perspective?
3. How do self-organised bodies find/create a room for themselves without related law and policy configurations in construction of this process?
4. How do governance processes differ even in the same national/urban context despite increasingly private sector involvement?
 Taksim Gezi Park is a public space within the boundaries of the Taksim Square Pedestrianization Project, one of the mega projects. People organized and resisted all around the country in order to prevent Taksim Gezi Park from being demolished and turning into a shopping mall.  KUYUCU, T. (2018). Türkiye’de Kentsel Dönüşümün Dönüşümü: Kurumsal Bir Açıklama Denemesi. Idealkent, 9(24), 364-386.  https://ff.hrw.org/film/saf