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The Lazy, the Idle, the Industrious: Discourse and Practice of Work and Productivity in Late Ottoman Society


This dissertation traces the establishment of a binary between work and laziness from 1839 to 1920, the last century of the Ottoman Empire. Over this period, Ottoman society experienced an epochal shift in the discourses and practices of work. This study examines this shift, first, by exploring how concepts of work and productivity were moralized, socially practiced, militarized and politicized in a non-European modernity project, and second, by demonstrating how this emergent discourse, formulated as an issue of `national' importance, became a constitutive element of the general nation-formation process within the last Ottoman century. I examine the configuration and development of the moralistic discourse of an `Islamic work ethic' as an integral part of creating productive citizens. To do this, I consult an underutilized source, morality books, which display the connection between the mobilization for productivity, modern conceptualizations of body and time, and nation formation. Emphasizing the role of social practice in emergent discourses, I investigate how the bureaucratic reforms of the state in the last Ottoman century played a pivotal role in the transformation of concepts and practices of work. By the time of the revolution of 1908, anxieties over work, laziness, productivity and the shaping of the industrious body became not only political but also militarized issues. Debates over the new concepts of self and the body of the political subject reveal the broader conflicts that took place within Ottoman society. Scornful portrayals of the dandy in works of fiction, the development of an exclusionist language in morality texts against the lazy/idle elements of society, and the polemics between various political agents that took place in the political journals signaled a vital debate on what sort of model citizen their standpoint proposed for the nation. By tracing the notion of laziness as a social problem in the last century of the Ottoman Empire, this study places the discourses and practices of work and against laziness, with all of their shared assumptions and conflictual standpoints, at the center of an Ottoman modernity.

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