The Mellon Forum for Research on the Urban Environment welcomes Bridgett Purcell (Anthropology) to discuss, "A woman's place? Rethinking home in the Islamic city."
In the modern Middle East, proponents of economic development often mobilize the “place” of women as an index of a country or region’s modernization. In contemporary southeastern Turkey, for instance, state-led urbanization is driven and justified by the claim that women in cities are free to participate in public life, whereas women in villages are “confined to the home.” This paper challenges that narrative by querying the figure of confinement to the home. I begin by exploring the under-examined social scientific convention that takes the boundary of the house (inside/outside, private/public, female/male) as a stable axis of comparison across time and space. Then, drawing on my fieldwork in southeastern Turkey, I track how the inside/outside boundary is phenomenally and differentially instantiated in three types of home—village, urban, and peri-urban. I argue that, in the city of Urfa, the notion of a bounded home arises only in the context of urbanization, as an emergent middle class moves into modern apartment buildings, setting themselves apart from villagers and migrants both socially and spatially. Here, “confinement to the home,” far from a mark of backwardness, is for local women a badge of middle-class respectability. I thus show how the question of domestic boundaries, far more than a developmental or anthropological preoccupation, acts as an important means of self-positioning and social differentiation in a multi-ethnic, cross-class context.
Respondent: Rachel Price, Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures