Aslı Iğsız and Jonathan Conlin discuss how a concept of civilisation has been represented and exploited, from the age of Ismet and Toynbee to that of Erdoğan, Samuel Huntington and Krishan Kumar.

Aslı is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at NYU.

In her 2018 book Humanism in Ruins: Entangled Legacies of the Greek-Turkish Population Exchange, Aslı Iğsız presented a critique of liberalism from the angle of the management of difference, investigating the underpinning racialized logics of population transfers, partitions and segregation. In this conversation, recorded on 9 February 2023, Aslı considers the (ab)uses of “civilisation” as a concept and discourse in the Lausanne era, as well as in our own era of ethno-nationalism. Aslı questions whether A. J. Toynbee’s exploration of “the contact of civilisations” offered anything more than nationalism writ large: with civilisations viewed as equally “incommensurate”, indeed almost as discrete organisms, each following their own life-cycle. Turning to more recent, neoliberal cultural discourses, Aslı explains how the 1990s “cultural turn” fostered a return to civilisational thinking. Alongside Samuel Huntington and the 2005 UN “Alliance of Civilisations,” the discussion also considers the ways in which Erdoğan and the AKP represented “Ottoman civilisation” in the 2000s and 2010s.

While each “civilizational” proponent accuses the other of being fascist or racist, without any hint of acknowledging their own participation in these discourses and their structural manifestations, they project a false binary onto the world stage that feeds into, and is fed by, discourses of civilizational conflict.

Aslı Iğsız, “Rethinking the Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in the Civilizationist Present”, Journal of Modern Greek Studies 40.2 (2022): 271-288 (288).

Episode 27 – The Civilisationist Present

Podcasts are published by TLP for the purpose of encouraging informed debate on the legacies of the events surrounding the Lausanne Conference. The views expressed by participants do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of TLP, its partners, convenors or members.