Conduct, meaning and inequality in an Istanbul courthouse
Koğacıoğlu, Dicle (2008) Conduct, meaning and inequality in an Istanbul courthouse. New Perspectives on Turkey, 39 . pp. 97-127. ISSN 0896-6346
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This essay seeks to analyze the daily reproduction of inequalities in and around a contemporary Istanbul civil courthouse. Based on an ethnographic study in three poor urban neighborhoods and their civil courthouse, I examine the mode of conduct in the latter and the ways in which this mode is perceived. This study shows that routinized divergences from formalistic premises in the courthouse are not perceived as flaws, but placed within informal relations. This enmeshing of formal and informal practices is considered normal by both the legal professionals and lay low-income litigants. These constituencies, however, perceive this conduct rather differently in relation to their own and others' attributes. Lay low-income litigants locate it within a broader idiom of "doing administration," a series of tactics to engage within a horizon of perpetual injustice. For legal professionals, on the other hand, the daily mixing of formal and informal practices has to do with their mission of "educating" and transforming those in need to participate in the culture of the state. I discuss the particular relation of these two perceptions in normalizing the view of the law as a site, not of formal egalitarianism, but of hierarchical social engagements.
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