Beyond the culturalization of the headscarf : women with headscarves in retail jobs in 2000s Turkey

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Bilkent University
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This dissertation studies the roles and meanings of the headscarf in the lives of lower middle class, non-university educated women working in private sector retail jobs. The study critically discusses the extent to which the dominant framework of politics of cultural difference, identity and a focus on Islamic/ secular divide in society in Turkey accounts for the connotations of the headscarf in low status and insecure private sector employment. The study problematizes the overemphasis on issues of cultural difference and identity in post-1990 studies on women, Islam and headscarves in Turkey and suggests an analytical framework that accounts for social inequalities rather than cultural difference. Secondly, it problematizes the reification of Islamic group identity in previous literature, and complicates the dichotomous categorization of ‘secular’ and ‘Islamic’ identities as two ‘oppositional’ sources of belonging. The study relies on in-depth interviews and focus groups conducted with saleswomen, as well as participant observation in five cities in Turkey: İstanbul, Ankara, Denizli, Gaziantep and Kayseri. The findings are twofold: (1) In the retail sales job market, women with headscarves are constructed as a labor force more inclined to settle for insecure, dead-end, low-paid jobs. The discriminatory employment policies that disadvantage women with headscarves are embedded in the problems of workplace democracy, and problems of unqualified, insecure women’s labor; (2) Lower middle class, nonuniversity educated women with headscarves formulate the practice of wearing the headscarf as a continuously negotiated practice, with meanings contingent upon class and status cleavages, instead of formulating it as a matter of deep religiosity, identity and cultural difference.

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Headscarf, Veiling, Politics of cultural difference, Politics of identity, Class, Gender, Retail sales
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