Publics of Value: Youth, Language, and Higher Education in Turkey
Patrick Lewis

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Chicago

Primary Discipline

In 2010, the Turkish state reversed decades-old language policy concerning Turkey's large Kurdish minority and opened the first academic institution in the country providing state-recognized degrees in Kurdish-language education at Artuklu University in Mardin. Over the next five years, similar programs were founded at several other newly opened universities in Kurdish-speaking regions. These programs were intended to train thousands of new Kurdish-language teachers to work in state primary and secondary schools. However, since the collapse of the peace process in 2015, new appointments of Kurdish-language teachers have stalled, and thousands of graduates have been left jobless. Despite severe political and economic pressures, however, many youths continue their advocacy around Kurdish-language education, and insist on writing, teaching and publishing in Kurdish. Based on 18-months of ethnographic research between 2017-2018 with Kurdish students and Kurdish-language activists and educators in Southeastern Turkey and Istanbul, my project investigates language practices and public formation among Kurdish youth at Turkish state universities. It interrogates the role which higher education plays in inculcating different ideologies of language among Kurdish youth; and it examines how broader shifts in the value regimes governing language use in Turkey are affecting youths' mobilization into multiple, competing (and contested) social value projects. It draws on a wide body of literature on youth, language, higher education, the state, publics and value to examine how Kurdish youth come to valorize language in relation not only to state institutions, labor markets and the Kurdish movement, but to their peers, families, communities and wider youth publics.
About Patrick Lewis
Patrick Lewis is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. His research bridges linguistic and social-cultural anthropology and examines the political-economy of language, higher education and youth in Turkey and North Kurdistan. Patrick studied and worked in Turkey as a teacher and translator for a half-decade between 2008 and 2013. In 2012, he completed an MA at Sabanci University, where he conducted an ethnographic research project on Kurdish Language organizations and educators in Istanbul. Patrick came to the University of Chicago as a Ph.D. student in 2013, returning to Turkey every summer to study Turkish, Ottoman and Kurdish with the support of FLAS Fellowships. Between 2017-2018, he completed 18 months of archival and ethnographic fieldwork in Mardin and Istanbul on youth public formation and the creation of a new system of mass higher education with the support of a Fulbright-Hays DDRA Fellowship.

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