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Symptomatic enjoyment: a postcolonial and psychoanalytic interpretation of Turkey’s relations with the European Union

Abstract

This article aims to provide a postcolonially and psychoanalytically informed interpretation of the durability, longevity and depth of Turkish political actors’ (of almost all political orientations) quest to become a member of the European Union (EU), in spite of continuous frustrations and setbacks. It argues that psychoanalytic notions, such as Lacan’s enjoyment as social fantasy and social symptom, and postcolonial insights on the psychic effects of dehumanisation can help us understand not only historical and contemporary ambivalent Turkish views and attitudes towards EU/Europe, but the persistence of the EU membership bid even among political actors, such as the Justice and Development party (AKP), which otherwise appear resistant to the EU. It maintains that other possible explanations of Turkey’s persistence can be deepened by a reading which takes into account the affective dimension of politics and of identification processes in contexts of material and symbolic hierarchy.

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Notes

  1. Freud also argued that another mechanism employed by civilisation to inhibit, weaken and disarm aggressive and destructive drives is the introjection and internalisation of aggressiveness towards the individual’s own ego, which forms the super ego: ‘the tension between the harsh super-ego and the ego that is subjected to it, is called by us the sense of guilt; it expresses itself as a need for punishment’ (Freud 1962: 70).

  2. The idea that EU/Europe functions as a nodal point in domestic discourses, around which meanings are stabilised, has also been developed by the pioneering work of Diez (2001), who, also drawing on Laclau and Mouffe (2001), illustrates his discursive approach through a study of British discourses towards Europe since the Second World War. Diez, however, focuses on the discursive domain, whereas in this article I explore the imbrication between the discursive and the affective.

  3. In the same book, Freud provides another—and more controversial—explanation for repetition compulsion: the death instinct—‘an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things which the living entity has been obliged to abandon under the pressure of external disturbing forces’ (Freud 1961: 30), but we will not explore this notion here.

  4. Such as the empowerment of certain (political and societal) actors at the expense of other (military) actors (Ozcan 2009; Onis 2010) and an improved Turkish economy (Aydin 2003; Onis 2010), through full access to EU single-market, pre-accession funds, Foreign Direct Investment, etc.

  5. Critiques of the economic determinism of certain readings of Marx have been frequent at least since Antonio Gramsci attempted to understand why sometimes economy and ideology do not align (such as when the working class vote for fascist parties, or when ‘the majority of those who are hungry don’t steal and the majority of those who are exploited don’t strike’ (Reich in Stavrakakis 2007: 169). In fact, Marxism and psychoanalysis have been interwoven in the work of many authors at least since William Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism, published in 1933.

  6. The coalition government between the Islamist National Salvation Party, led by Necmettin Erbakan, and the Republican People’s Party, led by left-leaning Bulent Ecevit, in the 1970s, and the coalition government led by the Welfare Party (the new reincarnation of the Islamist political parties led by Erbakan) in the 1990s, could arguably be cited as examples. However, since this study is interested in understanding the persistence and pervasiveness of the Western/Europe/EU orientation, dissident views will not be explored.

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Acknowledgements

This article has greatly benefitted from stimulating conversations, insightful comments, and helpful suggestions made by several people. I would like to thank in particular Jimmy Casas Klausen, Marina Sertã Miranda, Gabriel Gama de Oliveira Brasilino, Ruth Naidin, Rachel Pires, Paulo Chamon, Bruna Holstein Meireles, the three anonymous reviewers and the editors of the Journal of International Relations and Development.

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Correspondence to Paula Sandrin.

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Sandrin, P. Symptomatic enjoyment: a postcolonial and psychoanalytic interpretation of Turkey’s relations with the European Union. J Int Relat Dev 24, 226–250 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41268-020-00189-6

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Keywords

  • Affects
  • identity
  • Postcolonialism
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Turkey-EU relations