A Midsummer Night’s Coup: Performance and Power in Turkey’s July 15 Coup Attempt

Abstract

Occurring at a time when military interventions appeared to be a matter of the past, the coup attempt of July 15, 2016 left a major mark on Turkish society and politics. This article approaches the July 15 coup attempt as a contingent and transformative event and investigates how symbolic processes helped determine its immediate outcome as well as its cultural, social, and political consequences. Linking the sociological literature on events with social performance theory, the study argues that the putschists’ ineffectiveness in projecting legitimacy and power in the critical hours of the coup attempt significantly contributed to its failure. The retrospective construction of an authoritative “Narrative of July 15” in the following weeks, on the other hand, enabled the government to implement specific institutional changes in the cultural, economic, and political domains. The study proposes a two-step analysis for the cultural construction of political events and suggests that social performance theory provides useful analytical tools for tracing the course and explaining the outcome of this process.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/erdoganin-darbe-girisimi-gecesi-yayinlanamayan-konusmasi-40165560. Accessed 18 January 2017.

  2. 2.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZP2ayhDzCI. Accessed 17 October 2016.

  3. 3.

    http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/erdoganin-darbe-girisimi-gecesi-yayinlanamayan-konusmasi-40165560. Accessed 18 January 2017.

  4. 4.

    The messiah figure in Islamic eschatology.

  5. 5.

    The Freedom House has categorized Turkey’s press freedom status as “not free” since 2014. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2016/turkey. Accessed 20 October 2016. Extensive information concerning limitations on press freedom in Turkey before and after the July 15 coup attempt can be found in the country page of Reporters without Borders (RSF): https://rsf.org/en/turkey.

  6. 6.

    http://tv.cnnturk.com/turkiyeningundemi. Accessed 23 August 2016.

  7. 7.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxTpHMlcJXA. Accessed 14 October 2016.

  8. 8.

    Author’s own record.

  9. 9.

    Notably, Selahattin Demirtaş, the leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP, was excluded from the rally despite his unequivocal opposition to the coup attempt on the night of July 15.

  10. 10.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8t_ZRz3HUI. Accessed 30 January 2017.

  11. 11.

    http://www.eba.gov.tr/15temmuzanmaprogrami. Accessed 1 October 2016.

  12. 12.

    On these two groups within the Muslim conservative business class in Turkey, see Buğra and Savaşkan 2014, 259–262.

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Acknowledgements

Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University and in the Cultural Studies Speaker Series at Sabancı University. The author would like to thank the participants in these workshops, the anonymous reviewers, and David Smilde for their helpful comments and suggestions.

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Altınordu, A. A Midsummer Night’s Coup: Performance and Power in Turkey’s July 15 Coup Attempt. Qual Sociol 40, 139–164 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-017-9354-y

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Keywords

  • July 15
  • Military coups
  • Social performance
  • Events
  • Turkey