Friday, 6 May 2016

Talking Turkey

Almost all news stories in the UK at the moment seem to have some relationship to, or are filtered through, the EU Referendum debate. I don’t want to use this blog simply to talk about that debate but for those who may be interested I will start this post with some links to various things I have written on other sites on the topic (some are syndicated re-issues of the same pieces).
So on the New Europeans site there are four articles (and do look at the rest of this excellent site); two pieces on The Conversation (again, there’s loads on this site worth looking at) both of which are listed on the House of Commons Library Referendum Research Briefing; another on the Wake Up Europe site; another on the EU Movement site; and another on the Reasons2Remain site. Finally, there is also the transcript and audio of a radio broadcast I took part in on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Rear Vision programme. Oh, and a short letter in the Financial Times (pay walled link but free access to up to a monthly limit). I’m also giving numerous talks in town and village halls on the kinds of issues covered in these posts but of course I can’t give links for these.
Anyway, on to today’s related topic, the news this week that the EU Commission has conditionally agreed to Turkey having visa-free access to the Schengen area. The anti-EU press and campaign to leave the EU spun this in predictably, but depressingly, dishonest ways, speaking of the EU ‘opening the door to 79 million Turks’. What such formulations imply (and get taken to mean) is a mix of downright lies, confusions and paranoia: that Turks will now have the same free movement rights as EU citizens (they won’t; the deal will apply to short term visits); that this will apply to the UK (it won’t; the UK isn’t in the Schengen area); that the entire population would move wholesale to the EU and the UK if it could (a nonsense, both obviously and as was shown when exactly the same claims were made about Bulgaria and Rumania when those countries gained free movement rights).
The wider issue is that this is part of a deal under which Turkey will control the flow of refugees into the EU, and more particularly Greece by taking back all such refugees with an equivalent number then being taken directly from the Turkey by the EU. That deal is controversial, not for the ludicrous reasons given above but because the UN has pointed out that it may be illegal and other bodies that it may be immoral. Yet one has to recognize that, shabby as it may be, it is primarily a response to the claims (not least from anti-EU groups in Britain) that the EU has failed to deal with the so-called migration crisis (more correctly, the refugee crisis).
One of the reasons this deal is, indeed, shabby is because Turkey has recently become markedly more authoritarian and repressive, as I have written about elsewhere on this blog and as events just this week underscore, events which may yet scupper the EU deal. In fact, if the EU is to be criticised, the real criticism is that in the years that Turkey was reforming and improving its human rights record its desire to join the EU was discouraged, contributing to the downward path it has since followed. Especially in the light of what has since happened in Syria, this now looks like a major strategic blunder by the EU. Even so, the relentless hostility to Turkey’s membership by Eurosceptics and worse in many EU countries since it applied to join (as long ago as 1987!) bears much of the blame for this.
Why does any of this matter for organization studies? One reason is the general point that I always make about the inseparability of politics and organizations. The EU is the biggest single economic entity in the world, after all. Another, narrower, reason is that Turkey has an organization studies community of some significance and within that a fragile critical management studies community. This is discussed by Beyza Oba and Mehmet Gençer in their chapter (‘The Ghost in the System: Critical Management Studies in Turkey’) in the recent book I co-edited (Critical Management Studies. Global Voices, Local Accents). It may be too grandiose, or alternatively too Eurocentric, but one reading of CMS is as the promulgation of the critical strand of European Enlightenment thought within the imperialist, or anyway dominant, strand of that thought.
I think that is a defensible reading. It’s well-established that there is a direct line of thought from Kant to Weber from whom there is an indirect line to Foucault; and a less direct line, via Hegel, to Marx from whom there is a direct line to the Frankfurt School. And although it is less well-established there is, I increasingly think, a direct line from the Descartes-Spinoza bifurcation of Enlightenment thought to the bifurcation between modernist and postmodernist thought; dogmatic and sceptical rationality; positivism and constructivism.
Whatever the truth of that, it is an obvious political reality that Turkey now stands at the pivot between the EU and not just Syria but the wider Middle-East tragedy; and perhaps between Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. What happens there matters enormously. It therefore becomes important to approach Turkey not, to finish where I began, through the narrow prism of the EU Referendum but as a conflicted boundary across which we – we Europeans, and more narrowly we students of organizations – must reach to support progressive, liberal and critical movements and people in Turkey.

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