When socio-political pressure is more powerful than the boss: workplace language policies by Kurds that restrict Kurdish

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1 Citation (Scopus)


As interpretations of results from small-scale research sites are incomplete without consideration of the social structures that frame them (Block, in: Gardner, Martin-Jones (eds) Multilingualism, discourse and ethnography, Routledge, New York, 2012), the current study uses the theoretical lens of agency to examine the language policies of four of Istanbul’s Kurdish-owned eating establishments with respect to socio-political structures. Set in a context in which Turkish nationalist ideologies trickle down to long-standing and pervasive stigma toward Kurdish at local levels (Coşkun et al. in Scar of tongue: consequences of the ban of the use of mother tongue in education and experiences of Kurdish students in Turkey, DISA, Diyarbakır, 2011; Saraçoğlu in Kurds of modern Turkey: migration, neoliberalism, and exclusion in Turkish society, Tauris Academic Studies, New York, 2011; Polat in Crit Inq Lang Stud 8:261–288, 2011; Schluter and Sansarkan in Içduygu, Göker (eds), Rethinking migration and integration: bottom-up responses to neoliberal global challenges, The Isis Press, Istanbul, 2014), Kurdish workplaces represent rich sites for investigating the relative influence of differently scaled structures on individual free will. Based on ethnographic data collected through observations and interviews, the results, which align with Ortner’s (Anthropology and social theory: culture, power, and the acting subject, Duke University Press, Durham, 2006) and Archer’s (Being human: the problem of agency, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000, Making our way through the world: human reflexivity and social mobility, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007) conceptualizations of agency, indicate that while structures severely constrain managers’ ability to determine policy, a small number of opportunities also exist to resist these structures. In contrast to much of the literature that emphasizes the dominance of global scales in the current neoliberal era (Cf. Heller in J Socioling 7(4):473–492, 2003; Blommaert in The sociolinguistics of globalization, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010; Flubacher and Del Percio in Language, education and neoliberalism: critical studies in sociolinguistics, Multilingual Matters, Bristol, 2017; Lorente in Scripts of servitude: language, labor, migration, and transnational domestic work, Multilingual Matters, Bristol, 2017; Block in Political economy in sociolinguistics: neoliberalism, inequality and social class, Bloomsbury, London, 2018), nationally scaled structures feature most prominently. A center-periphery distinction emerges with respect to the magnitude of the nation’s influence over policy: peripherality, in agreement with Kelly-Holmes (in: Pietikäinen, Kelly-Holmes (eds) Multilingualism and the periphery, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013) and Hiss (Lang Soc 46:697–718, 2017), comes with diminished pressure to adhere to the norms of the center. These findings both underline the considerable power of Turkish national structures over individuals in this setting while indicating a small space for alternative marketplaces (Woolard in Am Ethnol 12:738–748, 1985).

Original languageEnglish
JournalLanguage Policy
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2018


  • Agency
  • Blue-collar workplace
  • Kurdish
  • Periphery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language

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