Student Spotlight: Basak Durgun Receives Fellowship

Student Spotlight: Basak Durgun Receives Fellowship
Tarlataban community garden, Spring 2017

The program congratulates Basak Durgun for receiving a prestigious fellowship from Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Esma H.Celebioglu conducted a short interview with Basak about her project. See her responses below. 

You have received a very prestigious fellowship from Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Could you tell us a bit about your fellowship and how it will support your research?  

I am one of the Fall term Mellon Fellows in Urban Landscape Studies at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington D.C. This fellowship is a new interdisciplinary program at Dumbarton Oaks, which is a research institute affiliated with the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Science that supports scholarship in Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, garden and landscape studies. I hope to situate the ethnographic data I collected during my fieldwork in Istanbul last year in the larger context of urban redevelopment and landscape architecture history. During my term at Dumbarton Oaks, I will build a strong narrative to tie together my participant and field observations, interviews, news reports, advertisements, policy and court documents. I expect my time there to be extremely productive. They seem to have a very supportive and disciplined structure and network set up for their fellows.

Urban ecology is highly critical and a contemporary topic since we are dealing with the climate change and its destructive effects on the natural habitats. In what ways cultural studies program is applied to environmental studies and how does your cultural studies formation contribute to your research? 

In my dissertation, I examine the multifaceted ways diverse urban social actors (such as state institutions, real estate developers, and social movements) invest in Istanbul’s green landscapes, and how these actors imagine a future for the city through these spaces. So my focus is about understanding how Istanbul’s vulnerable green landscapes become key sites of socio-ecological struggles, how the state and real estate developers enroll green spaces in the processes of urban redevelopment, and how social movements reinvent them. My interdisciplinary training in Cultural Studies both during my Masters and my Ph.D. has taught me, first, to pay attention to power struggles, and dynamics of socio-political practices, and/or processes. Secondly, in Cultural Studies we ask critical questions about why something may have occurred at a given time, and who benefits from political, economic, and cultural processes in order to understand what is at stake. This approach led my research in a direction that considers urban green spaces within a multi-directional framework, and beyond the false dichotomies of nature vs. urban and urban vs. rural. In fact, in my research, I demonstrate how these dichotomies reproduce class based value systems and reorganize urban spaces. I build upon urban political ecology as a political framework, which calls into question the nature-urban divide and conceptualizes urban environment as a product of socio-ecological processes. I argue that urban parks, gardens, and other productive landscapes are at once key sites for capital accumulation and socio-political control, and terrains for building of commons, and envisioning democratic governance.

Will you have any other future projects on this topic?

There are a variety of layers to my dissertation research. Some of the most pronounced themes as commodification of nature, redevelopment and urban futures, and food production and distribution. I am thinking about exploring these topics within discourses like “escaping the city,” “living off the land,” “going off the grid,” which impacts previously rural or small towns in quite complex ways. So I think my next project will also be back in Turkey, but on coastal towns, visiting eco-conscious small farms, new tourism hot spots, and mountain range country homes.