Actors and Power Dynamics in the Struggles of People with Disabilities: A Comparative Study of four Turkish Disability Organizations
Sociology Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Istanbul, Turkey
Sociology Koc University Istanbul, Turkey
This paper focuses on the struggles by people with disabilities in Turkey from a citizenship perspective. More specifically, within the framework of the revived interest in citizenship since the late 1980s, it examines whether the struggles in Turkey could be conceived within a similar framework. For this purpose, the paper analyzes four disability organizations, each respresenting a different approach to disability. The goal is to investigate these organizations' capability to deliver a rights-based discourse, for it is the presence or absence of such a discourse that constitutes one of the cornerstones of current citizenship debates. First, the Association of People with Disabilities of Turkey, with its connection to the state, as a beneficiary of the latter's charity, plays the role of the mediator, whose duty is to redistribute to the"needy" disabled, the grants provided by the "charitable" state/society. Secondly, the Whitemoon Association for the Blind, whose founder is a deputy of the leading party, represents a form of organizing intertwined with the central government, and is under the influence of the "charity" approach to social policies promoted by the party in power today. Thirdly, the Six Dots Foundation for the Blind, embodies, at least in relative terms, a different approach in the sense that its efforts are directed at the empowerment of blind people within society, through educative and rehabilitative projects. Finally, the Disabled and their Friends Platform, is able to develop a more rights-based attitude, closer to the current-day citizenship conceptions, due to its alternative form of organizing over the Internet, which frees it, to a large degree, from relations of patronage. Drawing upon these four cases, the paper argues that in contrast to recent developments in other national settings, due to the institutional, political and historical specificities of Turkey, despite their differences, most organizations maintain relations of patronage with state actors, preventing them from developing a rights-based attitude. Yet, parallel to the impact of the European Union and technological developments such as the Internet, alternative forms of organizing started being formed at the virtual level. These developments act as the harbinger of a relatively more rights-based discourse.