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Social Capital of the Saucepan. An analysis of Turkish Social Capital in Light of the Gezi Park Protests

Essay 2013 10 Seiten

Soziologie - Individuum, Gruppe, Gesellschaft



As a multidimensional concept which has been shaped cumulatively by various social scientists, social capital can be considered as an end-social product of the interplay between various factors such as trust, norms and civic networks. Together with all of its components, social capital is one of the biggest - if not the biggest- determinant of social cohesion. In this context, present paper aims to provide a discussion by applying analogic causality, social capital and social cohesion into the case of Turkey.

Turkey, as a social capital-low country, has been the stage of one of the most influential collective actions of our decade with the massive protests in Taksim Gezi Park, which reshaped the underlying social fractions within the country. After outlining the fundamentals of the concepts and events, the discussion will be further enriched with reflections on the driving factors of the protests and their relation with the country’s social structure.

Placing the Fundamentals: Social Capital, Social Cohesion and Trust

Different political and social scientists conceptualized and operationalized social capital in various ways. In this sense, Francis Fukuyama (as cited in Forrest and Kearns, 2001) considered social capital as “an instantiated informal norm that promotes cooperation between two or more individuals”. James Coleman (as cited in Forrest and Kearns, 2001) brought the term into wider use and argued that it is actually a public good, thus its production will be determined by the interactions of market agents. Robert D. Putnam (as cited in Forrest and Kearns, 2001), on the other hand, identified social capital as a reference to features of social organization such as norms, networks and trust that facilitate co-ordination and co-operation for mutual benefit.

As it can be seen from the variety of definitions, social capital - as a necessary condition of the social integraton- can be linked to the various domains (Figure 1). Inspired by the multi-domain nature of social capital, Forrest and Kearns(2001) coin the social capital with analysis of social cohesion and the neighbourhood. Social cohesion can be briefly defined as the aggregate harmony among the distinct members/groups of the society and it is the blended end-product of various factors including the social capital (Figure 2).

Forrest and Kearns provide a good example of the close relation between the social capital and the social cohesion. In their terms, low levels of social capital (low performance in its domains) have a restrictive impact on the overall social cohesion. “By implication, a society lacking cohesion would be one which displayed social disorder and conflict, disparate moral values, extreme social inequality, low levels of social interaction between and within communities and low levels of place attachment” (Forrest and Kearns, 2001). This reflection on the relation between social capital and cohesion will be the backbone of present discussion. This backbone will be further nourished with trust as it is what makes Turkey an interesting case to study.

As a cement of interpersonal and intergroup communication, trust is the main component of social capital and social harmony. Simmel(1950, as cited in Delhey and Newton, 2003) highlights the importance of trust by considering it as “one of the most important synthetic forces within society”. In spite of its simplicity, there are different types of trust and they do not always show the same tendencies.

Newton(2001) discovered this difference between the types of trust as a result of his comparison of social and political trust among many countries. This disparity is particularly relevant for the later part of our discussion as it is quite strong in Turkey. In this context, as it is stated by Newton(2011), “social trust is a puzzle; its relationship to society and voluntary associations, as well as its relationship to political trust and to government, is not at all clear". Nevertheless, its importance for a healthy social life is crystal clear.

Gezi Parki Protests and Turkey

Turkey is an emerging market with a particularly strong performance in economic growth (Figure 3). Nevertheless, this strength is not observable in social measures such as the Happy Planet Index(83rd in 2009) and OECD's Global Gender Gap Report 2012(123rd among 130 countries). While it is always good to keep a critical eye on the criteria and parameters of these rankings, they prove that the economic progress did not result in major advancements in social life. In this frame, as it is also identified in Delhey and Newton(2005), it is possible to consider Turkey's low social trust(with 5% trusting, Figure 4) and low social capital(132nd among 142 countries, Figure 5) status as the major components of an environment which eventually led to a massive protest against the governing AKP(Justice and Development Party) .

Unlike the social trust, Turkey has a tradition of political trust (Figure 6). Even though this trust was combined with a 47% outcome in favor of AKP after the last election in 2011, it did not prevent a massive flow of counter-reaction to be exhibited in Gezi Parki. As the central park(located in Taksim Square, the city center) of İstanbul which has always been the city of socio-political conflicts due to its multi-ethnical composition, Gezi Parki eventually became the stage of an evolution from a spark of protest into a fire of uprising.

As a Turkish social scientist who wrote one of the first articles following the events, Kuymulu (2013) confirms this evolution; "The spark that drew Istanbul into a fire of protest and uprising was initially set off by a modest ‘occupy style’ peaceful resistance, staged against the destruction of a historically public park".What initially started as trees has shifted into a reaction against the general AKP 'dominance'. "The police’s crackdown led to the revelation of all the substantial colors and the lines of contrasts between the Erdogan’s government and, the opposition groups and people"(Kılıç, 2013). In this context, Omni-Taksim(Kılıç's term for omniscient and multi-background protesters in Taksim) found a necessary and sufficient environment to express their accumulated reaction towards the prohibitive actions and agendas (anti-alcohol regulations, freedom of speech, the three kids per family recommendation etc.) of AKP.

These suddeny faded social lines and the ability of the initial protesters to organize and to create an info-war via different media (social and international print media), generated a nation-wide energy which guided people into streets for a highly-expressive movement. The nation-wide calls of Taksim Solidarity Platform, slogans of "Everywhere Taksim, everywhere resistance", and the neighbourhood- wide rituals like hitting to saucepans for hours have been few of many other rituals that transformed Gezi Parki protests into a national level. In a sense, it was a "reclaiming the right to the city" (Kuymulu, 2013). As an initiative of a multi-active and impulsive culture(Figure 7), the uprising ended up with a huge participation from around the country and resulted in strong clashes in streets for more than a month.

Relating Social Capital and Gezi Parki

It is this societal level of reaction that makes the Gezi Parki events interesting to analyze in terms of how it is linked to the overall trust level, social capital stocks and social cohesion status of Turkey. Gezi Parki Protests represented an outbreak of mistrust and discontent that the protesters felt towards the AKP government. In other words, it was an event that allowed the protesters to openly express "We do not want you and your policies" (Popp, 2013). Omni-Taksim was asking for an interactive-democracy which is not prisoned in the election boxes. This broader desire put all the discussions in a greater context. In this context, Delhey and Newton's (2003) work on the six theories of trust and related variables are particularly interesting for Turkish case as the study concludes that the community and societal theories work best in the low trust societies.

Both community and societal theories are applicable to the discussion when their variables are considered under the light of Gezi Parki Events (Figure 8). Omni-Taksim has been formed because of people's discontent with the increasing number of shopping malls surrounding the city(Dautaj, 2013). This can easily be linked to the variable about the size and the structure of the city. Protesters' objection towards the mainstream media for not covering the massive resistance movement, police brutality, the cyber warfare between AKP supporters and "others" are other factors that fit with the defined variables of societal and community theory. In its essence, the lack of performance in these variables and the general "otherization" were the factors that led a considerable proportion of the society to protest actively by crowding the streets.

The domains of social capital (Figure 2) are are the biggest drivers of our endeavour of bringing these concepts into the discussion of Gezi Parki events. Omni- Taksim became "omni" as they did not feel the necessary empowerment. Government's ignorance for the sounds coming from the streets, extremely limited involvement opportunities (only via pro- government institutions) for the ordinary citizens and their inability to initiate changes by themselves were the factors that contributed to the events.

Likewise, the general lack of involvement in associations and networks also prepared a ground for the Gezi movement. In retrospective, the involvement of protesters as a "unit" was a complain to the general polarization in Turkey by itself. Along with this, within the context of a society that does not always have a common purpose and feeling of reciprocity, the world established in the Gezi Parki was an utopia. The collaboration of homosexuals, rivalrous football fans, different ethnical associations, NGOs and people from all ages made this movement particularly strong and attractive to attend as it allowed these social fractions to fade and give a message of unity for one common purpose: expressing the discontent about the government policies in a democratic way. In Fukuyama's (1995) terms, this neo-miniaturisation of a new community feeling was what made this movement unique.

When Gezi Parki moved beyond the park, majority of people who had the feeling of their lifestyles being attacked by government's recent restrictive policies, supported the movement with the aim of "making this country a better place for the upcoming generations" ( Popp, 2013). They have done so with a strong sense of belonging to their country. People's insecurity about the future of their lifestyles and the country nourished the intensity level of the Gezi Parki Protests.

As has been already emphasized above, lack of trust can be considered as the gist of this social movement. As the most important component of social capital, the deficiency of trust in Turkish people have led to accumulation of their discontent with the socio-political developments of the country. This balloon of infelicity bursted with the spark provided within the context of Gezi Parki. Gezi Parki can definitely be used as an indicator of the levels of trust, social capital and social cohesion. When it is evaluated throughly, it can easily be identified that aforementioned links fit quite well with Forrest and Kearn's domains of social cohesion; indicating that the low levels of trust and social capital can be interpreted as a driving factor for the poor social cohesion in Turkey under the light of recent Gezi Parki events.


Making a complete social analysis of Turkey via the social concepts that have been reflected together with Gezi Parki protests would be optimistic at its best. However, as an attempt to shed some light to the recent protests, the discussion is focused on linking the happenings in Taksim Square by employing the trust and social capital indicators of Turkey. Following the clarification of these terms and brief explanation of the background of the recent events, the domains of social capital, aggregate level societal theories and ties to the social cohesion have been incorporated. In a greater picture of social cohesion, it is possible to conclude that the lack of trust and social capital are necessary but insufficient factors to deal with the whole complexity of recent events. Nevertheless, the contributions of these factors are highly considerable as it is outlined above.Along with this, considering the time that this essay has been written, it is crucial to point out the huge need/potential for further analysis of Gezi Parki events from different social and political angles. In this sense, this essay can be interpreted as a starting initiative to attract scietific interest to the subject matter and its further evaluation.


Dautaj, E. (2013) Soaring number of shopping centres may harm cities, Available at: (Accessed: 14th September 2013).

Delhey, J. and Newton, K. , (2003). Who trusts? The origins of social trust in seven societies. European Societies, 5(2), 93-137.

Delhey, J. and Newton, K. (2005) 'Predicting Cross-National Levels of Social Trust: Global Pattern or Nordic Exceptionalism?', European Sociological Review, 21(4), pp. 311-327.

Forrest, R. and Kearns, A. , (2001). Social Cohesion, Social Capital and the Neighbourhood. Urban Studies, 38(12), 2125-2143

Kilic, M., (2013). Chapulling 'Turkish Spring': Strike of an Unpredictable Synchronization. Turkish Journal of Politics, 4(1), 133-146.

Newton, K., (2001). Trust, Social Capital, Civil Society, and Democracy. International Political Science Review/ revue internationale de science politique, 22(2), 201-214.

Kuymulu, M. B., (2013). Reclaiming the right to the city: Reflections on the urban uprisings in Turkey. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 17(3), 274-278.

Popp, M. (2013). Turkish Publisher Can Öz: The Rebellion of an Apolitical Man. Spiegel International, 26th June.


ISBN (eBook)
1.5 MB
Institution / Hochschule
Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
Social Capital Trust Turkey Social Cohesion Gezi Parki




Titel: Social Capital of the Saucepan. An analysis of Turkish Social Capital in Light of the Gezi Park Protests