Gecekondus and sites of refugee homelessness: Two tales of contested spaces in Izmir [photos + map]

Prior to Ataturk’s ambitious plan to unite Turkey, there was a city named Amed. In an attempt to uproot regional histories and tame cultural divergences, it simply appears as Diyarbakir on modern maps of Turkey. Diyarbakir was, and arguably still is, the city at the heartland of Turkey’s Kurdish region. Serkan, a neighbourhood baker on Izmir’s busiest street – Kibris Sehitleri – was given a choice in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s: stay and fight in one of Turkey’s most brutal civil wars, or flee westward to safety. He chose the ladder and for the last 20 years has been running what he claims is “the bakery that makes the best gevrek in all of Izmir”. Yet, his fate is currently facing uncertainty, as his habitual place of residence in Izmir’s predominantly Kurdish area of Kadifekale is being transformed: “the cranes arrived years ago and never left (…) slowly our community is being fractured as people are moved to new buildings in Uzundere (…) God willing I will be able to avoid this because if I get moved as well, this will add hours to my commute every day (…) sometimes I wish I would have stayed in Amed”.

Mahmoud, another character in this story, is a 58 year old Syrian man. He has a long white beard, beautifully balanced with his dark complexion and bright green eye. Poor dental care has rendered his speech devoid of eloquence and shrapnel in his left leg has impaired his ability to walk without a cane. Unlike the thousands of transient refugees that have passed through Izmir as a stop off point before crossing the Aegean Sea onwards to the EU, greeted by smugglers and other shady opportunistic personalities, Mahmoud is part of the over 70,000 refugees currently residing in Izmir. He recalls the summer months of 2015: “There were thousands of my Syrian brothers coming and going in Izmir (…) sometimes for two days, one week at most, waiting for the smugglers to call them to inform them about the status of their crossing”. Those of which had disposable income stayed in cheap hotels, but most stayed homeless in public parks. “At first they stayed in Fuar, then Aziziye Parkı, and after the police evacuated both areas and gathered many of them, most camped out uneasily on Kordon”, Mahmoud explained. They had reasons to be nervous, as Atatürk Stadium in Izmir’s Halkapınar neighborhood became a transit location where refugees collected by police forces in Izmir were then sent to camps across Turkey, undoing their efforts toward transiting to Europe (Hürriyet Daily News, 2015).

Serkan and Mahmoud come from very different backgrounds, but both their stories lay the foundations of this article. The circumstances they describe have a great deal of overlap when considering that space is indeed not free or devoid of interests, that contests emerge at various sites in one given city.

1.1 – Contested spaces

To think of the city as neutral, where residents, workers of all walks of life, business owners, transient visitors, officials and planners cohabit peacefully, is nothing short of fantastical thought. The city is charged with interests held by individuals and groups – some of which lead the way for creativity, others that constrain it. These contests, between those who successfully attain the loudest voice and those in resentful bondage, embody the spirit of contested spaces. Reyes (2016) describes contested spaces as the condition where there is “(…) an arena of struggle for social control – the authority to impose what is and what is properly public – between one side, the private managers and, on the other, the public users” (Reyes, 2016: 201). Morrissey and Gaffikin’s (2006) description of what constitutes contested spaces is not confined to public spaces, outlining two forms of contested spaces:

“The first is where the contest relates to issues of pluralism, and centres on disputes about imbalances in power, welfare and status between distinctive rival groups (…) the other kind is about sovereignty, where there are similar pluralistic disputes about equity and access, but [that] these are interlocked with an ethno-nationalist conflict about the legitimacy of the state itself” (Morrissey and Gaffikin, 2006: 874)

In short, spaces face contests between actors representing various interest groups. Cities, densely populated and likely the areas of most cultural diversity, are thus naturally the breeding grounds of contested spaces. Some identities thrive while others are silenced, making cities the breaking point where spatial inequalities become most evident. Reyes (2016) explains that there has been a rise in such contests, as there has been a “(…) sharp decline of democratic public spaces brought about by the phenomenal rise of highly regulated private built environments [that] do not embody a public space (…)”(Reyes, 2016: 201).

Strauss and Liebenberg (2014) describe that as cities have “(…) become the loci of contested spaces, (…) legal norms and institutions are invoked to effect the eviction of impoverished communities from heavily populated areas (…)” (Strauss and Liebenberg, 2014: 429). These forceful evictions, they claim, have been “(…) motivated by the assertion of ownership rights against unlawful occupiers (…)” (Strauss and Liebenberg, 2014: 429), as has been seen in different squatter scenarios in North America and Europe (Frances Street squat, Vancouver; Seven Year squat, Ottawa; Pope squat, Toronto;  Kunsthaus Tacheles, Berlin; East London squat, UK) (Freeman, 2004; Jones, 2012; De Peyer, 2015), “(…) the gentrification of inner-city areas” (Strauss and Liebenberg, 2014: 429), exemplified in Neil Smith’s comprehensive study on New York’s Tompkins Square Park in The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City (1996), “(…) or the upgrading of informal settlements” (Strauss and Liebenberg, 2014: 429), as experienced by slum dwellers in Nairobi (Society for Threatened Peoples, 2004; Syagga, 2011). These are only a slim number of examples where contests of space result in eviction and displacement. The following sections focus on two tales with such a resolve, exploring the urban contests surrounding both gecekondu neighbourhoods and sites of transient refugee homelessness in Izmir, Turkey.

 2.1 – Two Tales

What follows are two case studies – two tales – about contested spaces in Izmir. They have a great deal of overlap. The first at hand, those living in gecekondu’s – informal settlements comparable to Brazil’s favela’s – are predominantly of Kurdish ethnicity. On the other, those squatting in parks (particularly in the summer months of 2015) were refugees of various Arab ethnic groups. Transcending from historical divisions, both Kurds and those holding Arab ethnicities continue to be marginalised within the borders of Turkey. Saraçoğlu (2011), for instance, describes the reality that “(…) where Kurdish migrants live are typically the poorest gecekondu zones of the city with the worst living and housing condition” (Saraçoğlu, 2011: 119) as nothing short of “spatial separation” (Saraçoğlu, 2011: 119). Sabli (2015), in her article on Turkish identity, illustrates the divide between Turks and Arabs. These divisions that have been drawn up culturally, politically or linguistically translate to spatial divisions. As with any marginalized group, those living in gecekondu’s or squatting in public parks have difficulty asserting their voice in spatial contests. This is further exacerbated by the fact that both communities in this story are comprised primarily of migrants, of which – historically and at present time – are usually a target of local discontent. Map 1 identifies key areas of contested spaces in Izmir, specifically relating to this story. As with all cities, many other contests for space exist within Izmir, but those are not the primary foci of this article and have thus been omitted.

gecekondurefugeemap copy 

2.2 – Gecekondu’s, neoliberalism and displacement

 Since the early years of Turkish leadership by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a strong move towards neoliberalism has taken place across Turkey’s largest cities. This has been part of AKP’s vision of “New Turkey” (Yavuz, 2006), a state built upon the two strong pillars of neoliberalism and Islam (Moudouros, 2014). Within this context, both private and public spaces have been transformed by intensification, adaptive reuse, redevelopment and development. One such transformation did not sit well with the Turkish public – that of Gezi Park in Istanbul’s Taksim district – leading to mass mobilisation of over 3.5 million across the country in 2013 (De Ballaigue, 2013). However, prior to the Gezi Park movement and after its dissolution up to our present time, various contests for space under the umbrella of neoliberalism have thrived. One such project is the Konak Urban Transformation Project in Izmir, of which incorporated the Kadifefale Urban Transformation Project into its framework in 2005 (Demirli et al., 2015).

For context, Kadifekale is a hill looking directly onto Izmir’s central Konak district. On top sits a castle originally conceived by Lysimachos, as part of New Smyrna, but its current walls date back to the medieval era. The surrounding hill of Kadifekale is covered by gecekondu neighbourhoods. Gecekondu’s, a word combining “(…) gece, ‘night’ in Turkish, plus kondurmak, meaning ‘to happen’ or ‘appear’” (Neuwirth, 2006: 144), are informal settlements built by (mostly migrant) squatters. Throughout Turkey’s history, multiple laws have been put in place in order to protect and legalise these settlements, for instance, Law no. 775 of 1966 that “(…) legalised the existing illegal settlements and required public institutions whose land was squatted to transfer these areas to the municipalities [and] provided a fund for the provision of land for cheap housing” (Duyar-Kienast, 2005: 34).

However, in 1983, as an increasing number of urban areas were becoming occupied by gecekondu settlements, Law no. 2805 regularised gecekondu neighbourhoods to consider them as “(…) regular parts of urban areas” (Duyar-Kienast, 2005: 34) and introduced the Improvement Plan where a redevelopement fund was established to renovate gecekondu areas. This was the early beginning of resettlement of gecekondu dwellers to make way for new urban projects. In compensation for forfeiting land rights, the squatters were provided financial rewards and housing in newly developed areas. In 2003, with the establishment of Toplu Konut Idaresi (TOKI), a new approach that is still standing today was devised in order to accelerate redevelopment. In this model, municipalities identify determine target gecekondu areas and sign an agreement with TOKI for site analysis (feasibility, real estate value, etc.) and to begin the drafting of a redevelopment plan. Then, “the slum owners proving their ownerships in the project area earn the rights of having house/houses based on the value of their real estate and costs of the project. The slum owners signs contracts with TOKI, and declare that they pay the difference between the values of the newly constructed house and the slum in a 15 year-period” (Uzun et al., 2010: 207).

Many negative implications, however, have been identified within this new model. Although TOKI is identified as a non-profit organization, it has yielded massive capital gains in the last years, mostly due to the sale of newly built apartment and commercial complexes. Its governing structure justifies these profits as a means to reinvest in social housing, albeit multiple sources of criticism. In Ekümenopolis: City Without Limits (2012), a documentary extensively following redevelopment of gecekondu neighbourhoods in Istanbul, multiple urban planning experts criticise the agreement signing process between gecekondu dwellers and TOKI. For instance, for squatters that refuse to sign the agreement with TOKI, their land can be forcefully (and legally) expropriated (Uzun et al., 2010: 207). However, squatters that do not know about land value and accept TOKI’s terms often receive lower compensation than what is legally acceptable. Furthermore, when they are moved to modern housing and asked to share costs with TOKI, they discover that what is asked of them is far above their financial means. Social repercussions also take place, where squatters that have developed gecekondu communities with a high degree of social cohesion over many decades are left in isolated neighbourhoods at the urban periphery (Demirli et al., 2015). Whether all of this has been intentional or not – a question of collateral damage versus unintended consequences – academics (see Saraçoğlu, 2014 and Demirtas-Milz, 2013) have drawn parallels between this model of reckless redevelopment with pervasive neoliberal narratives currently operating and driving contemporary urban environments. Furthermore, for areas such as Kadifekale, of which have mostly been occupied by ethnic Kurds, questions about institutionalised discrimination have effectively surfaced (Saraçoğlu, 2011).

The following photograph shows a contrast between a current gecekondu area (right) and a section that has been cleared within the scope of the Kadifefale Urban Transformation Project.


The following photographs show a small section of Bayraklı, another area of Izmir where redevelopment is currently thriving in a gecekondu-rich area. This is part of another project named Izmir Manhattan Projesi (Internet Haber, 2015; Capital, 2011).


2.3 – Homelessness of transient refugees and displacement

Last summer, Izmir surfaced in world news as “the main smuggling hub on the Turkish coast” (Kingsley, 2015). It is one of Turkey’s largest transportation hubs, with regular buses to auxiliary coastal cities to the North and South – many of which are only a few kilometers away from Greek islands. Although very little data has been officially collected in respects to the number of transient refugees that passed through Izmir in order to make their way across the Aegean Sea and towards Europe, it is widely accepted by local NGO workers that many of the hundreds of thousands that successfully crossed onto the Greek islands did so.

Whilst stopping over in Izmir, many of the refugees stayed in cheap hotels, but as availability of cheap accommodations were limited, many squatted in public areas. Notably, they stayed in Fuar, Aziziye Park and on the Kordon (amongst others) – central locations near the Basmane neighbourhood where many of the smugglers operated. However, as international attention rose vis-à-vis the increasing influx of refugees onto European territory via the Aegean Sea, many of these areas became hot spots for police raids aimed at collecting refugees to send them back to camps.

These areas, effectively, became contested spaces. On one side, transient refugees seeking a place to rest before a stressful journey. On the other, State interests based on maintaining good diplomatic relations with the EU and a desire to reduce visual pollution at home. Effectively, this was a good manifestation of Michel Agier’s (2011) portrait of humanity’s relationship with refugees as “(…) two great world categories that are increasingly reified: on the one hand, a clean, healthy and visible world; on the other, the world’s residual ‘remnants’, dark, diseased and invisible” (Agier, 2011: 4).

The following photographs show the above-stated areas (Fuar, Aziziye Parı and Kordon) where transient refugees temporarily squatted before making their journey across the Aegean and towards Europe.






Agier, M. (2011) Managing the Undesirables: Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Government, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Campaign Against Forced Evictions (2004) ‘Kenya: Campaign against forced evictions in the informal settlements’, Society for Threatened Peoples, (Bolzano); available online at:; accessed 23 March, 2016.

Capital (2011) ‘Izmir’in yeni New projeleri’, Capital, October 1; available online at:; accessed 17 April, 2016.

De Ballaigue, C. (2013) ‘Turkey: “Surreal, menacing… Pompous”’, The New York Review of Books, (New York), December 19.

Demirli, M. E., Ultav, Z. T. and Dermirtas-Milz, N. (2015) ‘A socio-spatial analysis of urban transformation at a neighborhood scale: The case of the relocation of Kadifekale inhabitants to TOKI Uzundere in Izmir’, Cities, 48 (1): 140-159.

Dermirtas-Milz, N. (2013) ‘The regime of informality in neoliberal times in Turkey: The case of the Kadifekale Urban Transformation Project’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37 (2): 689-714.

De Peyer, R. (2015) ‘East London squat which was littered with needles and faeces is shut down’, Evening Standard, (London), October 6; available online at:; accessed 23 March, 2016.

Duyar-Kienast, U. (2005) The Formation of Gecekondu Settlements in Turkey: The Case of Ankara, Berlin: Lit Verlag Munster.

Freeman, L. (2004) ‘Squatting and the city’, Canadian Dimension, (Winnipeg), November 1; available online at:; accessed 21 March, 2016.

Hürriyet Daily News (2015) ‘Aegean city cleared of thousands of Syrian refugees’, Hürriyet Daily News, (Istanbul), August 14; available online at:; accessed 14 April, 2016.

Internet Haber (2015) ‘Izmir Manhattan için sıraya girdiler’, Internet Haber, October 28; available online at:; accessed 17 April, 2016.

Jones, J. (2012) ‘The closure of Berlin’s Tacheles squat is a sad day for alternative art’, The Guardian, (London), September 5; available online at:; accessed 23 March, 2016.

Kingsley, P. (2015) ‘Lifejackets going cheap: People smugglers of Izmir, Turkey, predict drop in business’, The Guardian, (London), September 24; available online at:; accessed 18 April, 2016.

Morrissey, M. and Gaffikin, F. (2006) ‘Planning for peace in contested space’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 30 (4): 873-893.

Moudouros, N. (2014) ‘Rethinking Islamic hegemony in Turkey through Gezi Park’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 16 (2): 181-195.

Neuwirth, R. (2006) Shadow cities: A billion squatters, a new urban world, New York: Routledge.

Reyes, R. C. (2016) ‘Public space as contested space: The battle over the use, meaning and function of public space’, International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, 6 (3): 201-207.

Saraçoğlu, C. (2011) Kuds of Modern Turkey: Migration, Neoliberalism and Exclusion in Turkish Society, London: I.B. Tauris Publishers.

Saraçoğlu, C. (2014) ‘Disasters as an ideological strategy for governing neoliberal urban transformation in Turkey: Insights from Izmir/Kadifekale’, Disasters, 38 (1): 178-201.

Smith, N. (1996) The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City, New York: Routledge.

Strauss, M. and Liebenberg, S. (2014) ‘Contested spaces: Housing rights and evictions law in post-apartheid South Africa’, Planning Theory, 13 (4): 428-448.

Syagga, P. (2011) ‘Land tenure in slum upgrading projects’, Les cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est, 2011: 103-113; available online at:; accessed 23 March, 2016.

Uzun, B., Cete, M. and Palancioglu, M. (2010) ‘Legalizing and upgrading illegal settlements in Turkey’, Habitat International, 34 (1): 204-209.

Yavuz, M. H. (2006) The Emergence of a New Turkey: Islam, Democracy and the AK Parti, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

 Recommended related resources

The Beat of Frances Street (1990), film, Vancouver: Eleven Foot Productions; available online at:; accessed 18 March, 2016.

Ekümenopolis: City Without Limits (2012), film, Istanbul: Kibrit Film; available online at:; accessed 18 March, 2016.

Brosseau, M. (2015-2016) “GEG2108 Contested Spaces” [EN] and “GEG2508 Espaces sous tensions” [FR], university courses, Ottawa: University of Ottawa ; course listing available online at:; accessed 18 March, 2016.

Cultural worldviews: Test, theory and limitations

The test

To improve the reliability of your responses, complete both cultural worldview tests before reading further sections of this article. Following the completion of the surveys, your results for both scales will be indicated in bold on the “Thank You!” page.



The above online surveys will be live only until 20.04.2016. If you still wish to determine your cultural worldview after this date, you will have to be do so manually via this file. These survey instruments were designed by Kahan et al. (2007), as part of the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale.

The theory

Since the 1970’s, academics have sought out explanations for why individuals perceive certain aspects of society as risky or not. For instance, personality theory claims that certain personality traits make individuals risk takers or risk averse, economic theory proposes that those who have wealth have lower perceptions of risk due to their ability to afford losses, and political theory suggests that demographic characteristics and access to power have a great influence on how individuals perceive certain risks (Wildavsky and Dake, 1990: 42-43). However, for the purpose of this article, cultural theory is of most relevance. Initially advanced by the anthropologist Mary Douglas (1970; 1978), the theory claims that there are two social dimensions of which can help explain cultural diversity and the dialectical relationship between culture and attitudes (cultural worldviews).

These two dimensions are made up of grid and group, each having two possible outcomes to which build a cultural worldview profile for individuals. Grid is understood as the relationship to power, where individuals can be either egalitarian, seeking to “(…) reduce inequalities between people” (Oltedal and Rundmo, 2007: 122), or hierarchist, upholding a belief that “(…) all roles and tasks are assigned, the division of labor is clearly defined and ‘everyone remains in the same post’” (Cerroni and Simonella, 2014: 121). Group, on the other hand, represents “(…) the outside boundary that people have erected between themselves and the outside world” (Douglas and Wildavsky, 1982: 225). Here, individuals can be considered as either individualists, emphasizing individual freedom and autonomy in various aspects of society, or communitarians, affiliating and contributing to groups as a form of social support and protection from vulnerability.

gridgroupAll told, the theory claims that individuals can have one of four cultural worldview profiles:

  • Egalitarian-Individualist
  • Egalitarian-Communitarian
  • Hierarchist-Individualist
  • Hierarchist-Communitarian


All theories experience limitations. Beck (2009), for instance, asserts “(…) it is difficult to square the claims of cultural theory to transhistorical, context-independent validity with its interest in precision, relativity and cultural construction” (Beck, 2009: 239), accusing that its foundational pillars are most likely based on an ethnocentric narrative. More importantly, Marris et al. (1998) have questioned the analytical purchase of cultural theory, claiming that correlations between the four cultural biases and risk perception are generally weak, and that placing individuals in these categories funnels analysis into generalisations that can “(…) only be used to measure worldviews at a collective level” (Marris et al., 1998: 644).



Beck, U. (2009) World at Risk, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cerroni, A. and Simonella, Z. (2014) ‘Scientific community through grid-group analysis’, Social Science Information, 53 (1): 119-138.

Douglas, M. (1970) Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology, London: Barrie & Jenkins.

Douglas, M. (1978) Cultural Bias, London: Royal Anthropological Institute.

Douglas, M. and Wildavsky, A. B. (1982) Risk and Culture: An essay on the selection of technical and environmental dangers, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kahan, D. M., Braman, D., Gastil, J., Slovic, P. and Mertz, C. K. (2007) ‘Cultural and identity-protective cognition: Explaining the white-male effect in risk perception’, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 4 (3): 465-505.

Marris, C., Langford, I. H. and O’Riordan, T. (1998) ‘A quantitative test of the cultural theory of risk perceptions: Comparison with the psychometric paradigm’, Risk Analysis, 18 (5): 635-647.

Oltedal, S. and Rundmo, T. (2007) ‘Using cluster analysis to test the cultural theory of risk perception’, Transportation Research Part F, 10 (3): 254-262.

Wildavsky, A. and Dake, K. (1990) ‘Theories of risk perception: Who fears what and why?’, Daedalus, 119 (4): 41-60.


A personal response by Noam Chomsky

Two months ago, I wrote an article titled “Paris and Facebook: Fear, cognition and manufacturing consent”. Within the body of this article, one of Chomsky’s early publications Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media was referenced.

A few months before writing the article, I had seen an interview with the famed scholar, ground-breaking linguist and revolutionary political scientist. He mentioned a slight disappointment in the way people corresponded with him these days, preferring hand-written letters over emails.

So, given the coincidence of writing an article referencing his work, I decided to write to him… by hand. Today, I found a surprise in my letter box.


I found this letter to be sincere, on point and filled with powerful statements about the current state of the refugee reality.

Indeed, “the rest is a matter of asking who and what we are and aspire to be”, and that “the current callousness and brutality is painful to behold”.

Paris and Facebook: Fear, cognition and manufacturing consent

At seven different locations, and within a twenty minute window, 128 people died in Paris on the night of Friday November 13th, 2015. As the chaos erupted in the French capital, so did social media. Live news updates, videos and testimonials rapidly filled streams, threads and rss feeds. Thirteen hours later, at 10:38am, Facebook launched a watermark tool to overlay the French flag over your profile image. This article focuses on this component and the implications that social media plays in risk perception and the dialogue on terrorism and foreign military initiatives.

Mark Zuckerberg’s profile photo with its ‘Pray for Paris’ overlay



“On a Sunday evening, 30 October 1938, a play broadcast on CBS Radio caused over a million Americans to flee their homes in fright, believing that the vanguard of an invading army from outer space had landed in the farmlands of New Jersey” (Bourke, 2005: 178). It was the frightening radio adaptation by Howard Koch of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds:

“It began with [Orson] Welles’s voice, notifying listeners that, in the early years of the twentieth century, Americans knew that ‘this world was being watched closely by intelligence greater than man’s and yet as moral as his own’. This alien intelligence was ‘cool and unsympathetic, regarding this earth with envious eyes’ and was ‘slowly and surely’ plotting against humanity.” (Bourke, 2005: 178)

It is indeed true that means of communication and our interaction with mediatized information has vastly changed since the age of radio, but we should take care not to underestimate the role of emotions within the 21st century social media environment. A study on Twitter trends and emotions by Stieglitz and Dang-Xuan (2013) revealed several findings, including the observation that “(…) the affective dimensions (positive or negative sentiment) of political Twitter messages are indeed significantly associated with retweet behaviour in terms of retweet quantity, in the way that emotionally charged tweets are more likely to be disseminated compared to neutral ones” (Stieglitz and Dang-Xuan, 2013: 240-241), and that “(…) sentiment is positively related to not only retweet quantity but also retweet speed” (Stieglitz and Dang-Xuan, 2013: 241). This may explain why emotionally-charge subjects tend to become widespread trends across seamlessly interconnected social media platforms. As the discourse on terrorism is undeniably one of fear and anger, the contagion of these emotions on social media platforms is hardly a debatable observation. Although we may assume that the Internet is a vast and endless space, as trending dialogues occupy space on social media platforms, a funnelling and centralisation of discussion takes place where alternate narratives and news events take a backseat. On the same day as the Paris attacks, 26 people were killed and dozens wounded in Baghdad (Al Jazeera, 2015). One day prior, two suicide bombers left 43 dead and 239 wounded in Beirut (The Guardian, 2015). Yet, as Facebook’s ‘Pray for Paris’ watermark gained substantial fervor, Baghdad and Beirut became subtext events even though all three events had a common antagonist.

This has large implications in the way citizens of the Western world perceive terrorism, as discourse on its impact is too often confined to the geographic limits of Europe and the U.S. As Slovic and Petters (2006) characterize affect as “(…) the specific quality of ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’ (a) experienced as a feeling state (with or without consciousness) and (b) demarcating a positive or negative quality of a stimulus” (Slovic and Petters, 2006: 322) and affect heuristic as a “(…) reliance on such feelings (….) to guide judgments and decision making”, an important point must be made in regards to how social media guides these cognitive processes. Middle-Eastern communities face the plights of terrorism similar to those faced by the West, and a mediatized exclusion of these communities risks leading us to an affect and its heuristic based on polarization and dichotomy. As the cognitive process of cognitive-dissonance avoidance teaches us that “(…) it’s not comforting to entertain beliefs about what’s harmless and what’s harmful that force us to renounce commitments and affiliations essential to one’s identity” (Kahan and Braman, 2006: 155), it is imperative that identities of all who face terror be reconciled. If not, how can we expect sustainable solutions that harmonize our commonality of fear?


In 1988, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman published Manufacturing Consent, a ground-breaking analysis of how the media acts as a vehicle for strong ideological propaganda. The general thesis of this literary work is that by intricate means and uses of media, the powerful elite can achieve public validation and consent for the various undertakings they pursue. The authors explain that as the media has the “(…) function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society” (Herman and Chomsky, 1988: 1), a systematic and calculated use of propaganda has been applied to maintain equilibrium and status quo within “(…) a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest (…)” (Herman and Chomsky, 1988:1). Within the preface, Chomsky and Herman make reference to Walter Lippmann’s concept of manufacturing consent, claiming that although the sole aim and vision of media is not to produce public consent on systematic symbols, structures, policies and undertakings, evidence suggests “the propaganda function to be a very important aspect of their overall service” (Herman and Chomsky, 1988: Iix). This may take place with what Cottle (2006) refers to as mediatized rituals, which “(…) are more productively conceptualized as an identifiable and variegated class of performative media enactments in which solidarities are summoned and moral ideas of the ‘social good’ are unleashed and exert agency in the public life of societies” (Cottle, 2006: 411). He explains that the “(…) media periodically intervene in the life of contemporary societies, their contending identities and contests of interest, and (…) can contribute to the formation of plural solidarities or ‘publics’” (Cottle, 2006: 411). It is argued here that Facebook’s ‘Pray for Paris’ watermark tool (willingly or not) acted as a mediatized ritual, of which rallied individuals into a ‘public’ operating under a unifying symbol.

The risk at hand is the creeping on of doxa, a concept developed by Bourdieu in his attempt to understand the acceptance of neoliberalism as the most advanced and ideal global economic system. He explains that neoliberalism has seen so much success and public consent because it “(…) has been steadily prepared over decades in France and the UK by partisan groups of academics, mediapersons, businessmen, and others” and that “ordinary citizens and the media ‘passively’ contribute to the entrenchment of neoliberalism as doxa, by accepting and repeating the claims of neoliberalism” (Chopra, 2003: 424). Arguably, a similar process has silently crowded the mediascape, where expressions such as ‘boots on the ground’, ‘war on terror’ and ‘threat to national security’, and symbols such as the Twin Towers, ‘Je Suis Charlie’ and Facebook’s ‘Pray for Paris’ feature have undoubtedly dominated the Western discourse on terrorism. Perhaps these lead to the production of manufactured consent for predominantly military endeavors in the Middle East, and perhaps not. Yet, as sociologist Ulrich Beck claims that “(…) risk is a way of controlling or, one could say, colonizing the future” (Beck, 1998: 11) and that “the greater the threat (or to be more precise, the social construction of the threat), the greater the obligation and power to change current events” (Beck, 1998: 11), it is imperative to address to question of terrorism with rationality, compassion for middle-eastern communities and without unreasonable paranoia, and not to give unnecessary carte-blanche purchase to military responses that have proven ineffective in stabilizing the region.



Al Jazeera (2015) ‘Dozens dead as ISIL claims attacks against Iraqi Shias’, Al Jazeera (online), November 13; available online at:

Beck, U. (1998) ‘Politics of risk society’, in J. Franklin, (ed.) The Politics of Risk Society, Cambridge: Polity Press: 9-22.

Bourke, J. (2005) Fear: A Cultural History, London: Virago Press.

Chopra, R. (2003) ‘Neoliberalism as doxa: Bourdieu’s theory of the state and the contemporary Indian discourse on globalization and liberalization’, Cultural Studies, 14 (3/4): 419-444.

Cottle, S. (2006) ‘Mediatized rituals: Beyond manufacturing consent’, Media, Culture & Society, 28 (3): 411-432.

Herman, E. S. and Chomsky, N. (1988) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, New York: Pantheon Books.

Kahan, D. M. and Braman, D. (2006) ‘Cultural cognition and public policy’, Yale Law & Policy Review, 24 (1): 149-172.

Slovic, P. and Petters, E. (2006) ‘Risk perception and affect’, Current directions in psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society, 15 (6): 322-325.

Stieglitz, S. and Dang-Xuan, L. (2013) ‘Emotions and information diffusion in social media – Sentiment of microblogs and sharing behaviour’, Journal of management information systems, 29 (4): 217-248.

The Guardian (2015) ‘Isis claims responsibility as suicide bombers kill dozens in Beirut’, The Guardian (online), November 12; available online at:

Inside Cairo’s ‘Garbage City’: Slums, waste management and contested spaces [photo-essay]

It was a hot summer day reaching nearly 50 degrees Celsius when I visited Mokattam village (informally known as “Garbage City”) in Cairo’s Manshiyat Naser district (see Fig.1). As I approached the area, the steaming scent of trash filled my nose as I made repeated and largely unsuccessful attempts to swat the flies hovering around my head.

Fig.1: Cairo’s Manshiyat Naser district (Mokattam village ‘Garbage City’ in the black rectangle). Base map by Nicolas Parent, 2015.

Mokattam has over 50,000 inhabitants, most of them Coptic Christians that settled in Cairo about 70 years ago after leaving their agricultural roots in Southern Egypt [1]. They work informally, as Cairo’s most important labor force of garbage collectors, sorters and recyclers.

An ostracized people from Cairo’s broader population, they are known as the Zabaleen, literally meaning “garbage people” in Arabic.

Cairo - Garbage City 5

What is most impressive, however, is the efficiency at which they do their work: “(…) the Zabaleen, the traditional waste collectors of Cairo, have created what is arguably one of the world’s most efficient resource-recovery and waste-recycling systems” [2]. Collecting from the heart of the city center to the greater metropolitan limits of Cairo, 4,500 tons (although other estimates go up to 9,000 tons [3]) of waste is brought to and processed in Mokattam village every single day, of which 80% of it is recycled and turned into sellable raw material [4]. This is an astonishing figure when considering Europe’s 2014 recycling rates, where Germany takes the lead at 65% and the overall EU average tops out at a slim 42% (see Fig.2).

Fig. 2: Recycling Rates in Europe. Source: Daily Mail (2014), UK; available online at:

Aside from the efficiency factor, a vast and complex array challenges exist for the Zabaleen. The 7 areas of residence (Ein El Sira; Moatamadia; El Baragil; Tora; Ezbet El Nakhl; Helwan; and Muqattam) have now become contested spaces, where Cairo’s population growth and urbanization have led to a political push to displace the Zabaleen in order to gentrify the slum areas that have gained substantial real estate value over the last decades. Fahmi and Sutton (2006) assert that the city government made substantial financial contributions to livelihood development projects in the Zabaleen communities over the years, but in reference to Muqattam, this may have been part of a “(…) wider but hidden agenda involving urban redevelopment of this part of the city” [5]. This has led to various resettlement schemes that have brought some Zabaleen communities to the outskirts of Cairo [6], placing them further away from the sources of trash that supply their daily bread and butter.

Cairo - Garbage City 11

However, the Zabaleen are a strong and hard working community that has already surmounted previous challenges. In 2003, the then-President Hosni Mubarak made an attempt to liberalize the waste management sector by contracting out the work to multinational corporations. As this new approach required the residents of Cairo to change their sorting and disposal habits, its efficiency was compromised and became a failed project. However, it raised a multitude of questions and debates concerning the Zabaleen’ legal rights to Cairo’s trash industry. Since then, organizations such as Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE) and the Spirit of Youth Foundation have made strides towards establishing formal Zabaleen trash sorting and recycling enterprises [7].


Cairo - Garbage City 9

Cairo - Garbage City 6

As I strolled through the tight alleyways with towering windowless brick buildings, children played and worked amidst the rubbish. Although some would be appalled by the filth of this precarious environment, it was an organized place where laughter and the values of hard work and solidarity still thrived. No matter the issues of legal tenure or the informal nature of their work, waste management is a critical issue for all large metropolitan areas. And as Cairo grows as Africa’s second largest capital, it is difficult to conceptualize a Cairo without the Zabaleen.

To supplement the photos above, I suggest watching Garbage Dreams (2009), a documentary following the lives of three Egyptian boys that have grown up in Mokattam village.



[1] Mills, D. (2013) ‘Cairo’s “Garbage City” is a slum of 50,000 people, mostly Coptic Christians whose families came to the city from farms in the south seventy years ago’, First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, (235).

[2] Fahmi, W. S. (2005) ‘The impact of privatization of solid waste management on Zabaleen garbage collectors in Cairo’, Environment & Urbanization, 17 (2): 155.

[3] Guénard, M. (2013) ‘Cairo puts its faith in ragpickers to manage the city’s waste problem’, The Guardian, (London), 19 November; available online at:

[4] Wood, E. D. (2011) ‘Garbage City: For Cairo’s Coptic Christians, the future may rise from what others discard’, The Virginia Quarterly Review, 87 (2): 7.

[5] Fahmi, W. S. and Sutton, K. (2006) ‘Cairo’s Zabaleen garbage recyclers: Multi-national’ takeover and state relocation plans’, Habitat International, 30 (4): 809-837.

[6] Sutton, K. and Fahmi, W. (2010) ‘Cairo’s contested garbage: Sustainable solid waste management and the Zabaleen’s right to the city’, Sustainability, 2 (6): 1765-1783.

[7] University of Pennsylvania, Wharton (2010) ‘Waste not: Egypt’s “Garbage People” seek formal recognition’, Knowledge @ Wharton, 10 August; available online at: