Ethical encounters, anxious antagonisms: The emergence of Alevi-Sunni difference in Turkey

Authors: Banu Gokariksel*, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Anna Secor*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Political Geography, Urban Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: encounter, difference, ethics, anxiety
Session Type: Paper


In this paper, we analyze eight focus groups with Alevi women (a minority religious group) that we conducted in Turkey in 2015 and 2016 to explore the political potential that inheres in the affective encounter with the other. We argue that the encounter is both the site of ethics and of anxiety. The subject's relationship with the other is constitutive for both Lacan and Levinas, but their understanding of the affective and ethical significance of the encounter is quite different. For Levinas, the encounter with the other generates an ethics of responsibility, while for Lacan it is the site of anxiety, where the subject encounters a desire that originates outside of them and puts their very being into question. What makes the subject anxious is the sense that the Other does not acknowledge or even (mis)recognize them, but instead addresses them as fundamentally lacking. For example, in the everyday encounter between Alevi women and their Sunni neighbors, an ethical relation of obligation to the other emerges when Alevis bring food to their neighbors even knowing that it will be thrown out because Alevi hands have touched it. The (ethical) encounter thus also provokes anxiety: women repeatedly describe being disrespected, unrecognized, erased, and, referring back to the Alevi massacres of the 1980s, potentially obliterated. We argue that these affective encounters with difference create an opening for receptive ethical engagement, but that these openings also collapse into anxious antagonisms when emergent difference is captured within a striated political field.

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