Universities & Crisis Seminar: Civic death as a mechanism of retributive punishment: Academic purges in Turkey


In an era when authoritarian governments increasingly target academics, Turkey’s 2016 purge of more than 6,000 academics and their diminution to civic death is conspicuous in its cruelty. Although unprecedented, this is not the first time that Turkish academics have been punished en masse. By looking at the tools with which academics have been expelled from educational institutions, the public sphere, and the political body, I attempt to develop a nuanced understanding of the interconnected forms of punishment directed towards academic citizens as knowledge producers. I suggest that the 1980 coup accomplished three things: it introduced new mechanisms of punishment based on a logic of retribution instead of compensation; it changed the legal system into a regime of exception; it transformed academics into patriotic worker-citizens. The latest purges have brought an additional change in the status of academics’ citizenship, rendering them as disposable citizens forever at risk of being targeted as the ‘civic dead’.

 Seçkin Sertdemir Özdemir is Collegium Researcher in the Department of Philosophy, Contemporary History and Political Science and Turku Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Turku and Visiting Fellow in the European Institute at London School of Economics and Political Science. She previously worked as a Research Fellow from 2003 to 2016 and an Assistant Professor in the department of philosophy at Galatasaray University. Her recent publications include “Civic Death as a Mechanism of Retributive Punishment: Academic Purges in Turkey”, Punishment & Society (2020), “Pity the exiled: Turkish academics in exile” Journal of Refugee Studies (2019); and “Civil and Civic death in the New Authoritarianisms: Punishment of Dissidents in Turkey”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (with E. Özyürek)(2019); and “Exile and Plurality in Neoliberal Times: Turkey’s Academics for Peace”, Public Culture (with N. Mutluer and E. Özyürek) (2019).

Universities & Crisis is a multi-year, ESRC-funded research program based at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, that examines the social, political and economic pressures transforming higher education globally. You can find more information about the program at wwww.universitiesandcrisis.org