Research Article

DOI :10.26650/JECS356672   IUP :10.26650/JECS356672    Full Text (PDF)

Perceptions of Democracy in Turkey: Gender, Ethnic, and Religious Dynamics

Sema AkboğaOsman Şahin

Utilizing 60 interviews, we examine how people belonging to different gender, ethnic, and sectarian groups in Turkey define democracy and the democratic state. An analysis of the interviews reveals that women emphasize gender equality, while Kurds and Alevis focus on rights and freedoms in their definitions of democracy. Male Sunni Turks, on the other hand, focus on economic welfare. On the basis of these results, we argue that identity groups that have a problematic relationship with the state are more likely to define democracy in terms of rights and freedoms, whereas those who do not have a problematic relationship with the state are more likely to consider economic issues as central to democracy. This research also examined people’s expectations of a democratic state. When male Sunni Turks indicated that equality is among their expectations of a democratic state, they formulated it in terms of the state realizing economic equality. Female Sunni Turks, Kurds, and Alevis, on the other hand, emphasized the provision of equality among different ethnic and religious groups in their expectations of a democratic state. These important differences among identity groups in Turkey in terms of their attitudes toward democracy and the democratic state illustrate the problems involved in consolidating democracy as well as significant challenges in lessening social differentiation regarding this issue. 
DOI :10.26650/JECS356672   IUP :10.26650/JECS356672    Full Text (PDF)

Türkiye’de Demokrasi Algıları: Cinsiyet, Etnik ve Dini Dinamikler

Sema AkboğaOsman Şahin

Bu araştırmada, Türkiye’de farklı cinsiyet, etnik ve mezhep gruplarına mensup kişilerin, demokrasi ve demokratik devlet tanımları 60 adet yarı-yapılandırılmış yüz yüze görüşmeye dayanarak çalışılmıştır. Bu görüşmelerde, çeşitli etnik ve dini kimliklere ve sosyo-ekonomik gruplara ait bireylerle konuşulmuştur. Görüşmelerin analizi sonucunda, demokrasiyi tanımlarken, kadınların cinsiyet eşitliği üzerinde durduğu, Kürtlerin ve Alevilerin hak ve özgürlüklere, Sünni Türk erkeklerin ise ekonomik refaha odaklandıkları görülmüştür. Bu bulgulara dayanarak, devletle tartışmalı bir ilişki içerisinde olan kimlik gruplarının demokrasiyi hak ve özgürlükler açısından tanımlamaya, devletle bu şekilde bir ilişki içerisinde olmayan grupların ise demokrasiyi tanımlarken ekonomik konuları merkeze almaya daha eğilimli olduğu ortaya konmuştur. Çalışmada ayrıca katılımcıların demokratik devletten beklentileri de incelenmiştir. Görüşmelerin bu bölümünde de benzer sonuçlara ulaşılmıştır. Sünni Türk erkeklerin demokratik devletten beklentileri arasında eşitlik bulunduğu durumlarda bile, bu görüşmecilerin daha çok ekonomik eşitliğin belirli bir ölçüde sağlanmasını kastettikleri anlaşılmıştır. Bunun aksine, Sünni Türk kadınlar, Kürtler ve Aleviler, demokratik devletten beklentilerinin arasında farklı etnik ve dini gruplar arasında eşitliğin sağlanması olduğunu ifade etmişlerdir. Türkiye toplumunu oluşturan bu kimlik gruplarının demokrasiye ve demokratik devlete ilişkin tutumlarındaki bu önemli farklılıklar, Türkiye’de hem demokrasinin konsolide edilmesi hem de bu konudaki toplumsal ayrışmanın azaltılması yönündeki sorunlara işaret etmektedir. 


Disputes over the meaning of democracy make it difficult to find a clearly definable use for the term, which could be identified as correct. People’s definitions of democracy vary because factors including historical baggage, and gender, ethnic, and religious identity shape what people understand from democracy. Dalton, et al. (2007) suggest that definitions of democracy focus on one of three things: institutions and procedures; rights and freedoms; and social benefits. While some scholars focus on elections in their definitions of democracy (Huntington, 1991; Schumpeter, 1943), others suggest that non-electoral features of a democracy, such as the rule of law, deserve equal consideration (Diamond, 1999). Both approaches are criticized by those who argue that definitions focusing only on procedures and institutions or freedoms and liberties tend to neglect the significance of social and economic outcomes of democracy. Huber, et al. (1997), for example, argue that a democracy solely based on institutions and guarantees of freedoms does not always produce social and economic equality. The vast diversity of definitions of democracy—among citizens of the same nation as well as among different nations—should be recognized. Indeed, the scarce literature on citizens’ views on democracy (Ferrin & Kriesi, 2016) demonstrates that people conceptualize democracy in various ways (Baviskar & Malone, 2004; Bratton & Mattes, 2001; Canache, 2012; Carlin & Singer, 2011; Dalton, et al., 2007; Miller, et al., 1997; Shin & Cho, 2010). Depending on their experiences, people prioritize some components of democracy over the others (Bratton & Mattes, 2001), which in turn shapes their attitudes toward it. For example, while more than 40 percent of people in established democracies of the West define democracy with reference to rights and freedoms (Dalton, et al., 2007), many people in other parts of the world equate democracy with more access to health and education, less poverty, and more equality (Baviskar & Malone, 2004). In some African countries, people include economic components such as jobs for everyone, quality education, and a smaller income gap in their definitions of democracy (Bratton & Mattes, 2001). Similarly, the majority of citizens of Algeria and Lebanon consider characteristics such as low economic inequality and basic necessities for all as more essential to democracy than political characteristics (Tessler, et al., 2012). 

Drawing on this literature, we investigate how different groups in Turkey, a country that is predominantly Muslim and highly polarized across sectarian and ethnic lines, define democracy. We study whether there are differences between men and women, Kurds and Turks, Alevis and Sunnis in terms of (1) their definitions of democracy and a democratic state and (2) their expectations of a democratic state. 

We conducted 60 in-depth interviews in five cities in Turkey between April 2014 and July 2014. Participants were selected through purposive sampling for the sample to represent different gender, ethnic, sectarian, and socioeconomic groups in Turkey, enabling us to compare various groups’ views on democracy. We asked participants the following questions: (1) What is democracy? (2) What are the most essential features of democracy? (3) What does a democratic state mean to you? (4) What is the role of the state in a democratic society? All interviews were recorded and transcribed. During the analysis of the interviews, we coded for patterns and emerging themes by using grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).  

Our analysis reveals that gender, ethnic, and religious identities and their histories of relations with the state have a decisive impact on which of these features is chosen by individuals when defining democracy and formulating their expectations of a democratic state. Members of groups that have a problematic history with the state (i.e., women, Kurds, and Alevis) are more likely to emphasize rights and freedoms. For example, the majority of women in our sample define democracy as a regime in which women’s rights and freedoms are protected and gender equality is achieved. Similarly, both Kurds and Alevis formulate their expectations of a democratic state in terms of being equal to Turks and Sunnis, respectively. Members of groups that do not have a problematic history with the state (i.e., male Sunni Turks) are more likely to emphasize economic welfare in their definitions of democracy. Even when they include the provision of equality among their expectations of a democratic state, most argue that a democratic state should achieve economic equality to a certain extent. This finding suggests that rather than imposing a single definition of democracy on people, there is a need to study individuals’ understanding of democracy, as well as their expectations of a democratic state, by situating their views in a historical and political context.

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Akboğa, S., & Şahin, O. (2018). Perceptions of Democracy in Turkey: Gender, Ethnic, and Religious Dynamics. Journal of Economy Culture and Society, 0(57), 1-28.


Akboğa S, Şahin O. Perceptions of Democracy in Turkey: Gender, Ethnic, and Religious Dynamics. Journal of Economy Culture and Society. 2018;0(57):1-28.


Akboğa, S.; Şahin, O. Perceptions of Democracy in Turkey: Gender, Ethnic, and Religious Dynamics. Journal of Economy Culture and Society, [Publisher Location], v. 0, n. 57, p. 1-28, 2018.

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Akboğa, Sema, and Osman Şahin. 2018. “Perceptions of Democracy in Turkey: Gender, Ethnic, and Religious Dynamics.” Journal of Economy Culture and Society 0, no. 57: 1-28.

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Akboğa, Sema, and Osman Şahin. Perceptions of Democracy in Turkey: Gender, Ethnic, and Religious Dynamics.” Journal of Economy Culture and Society 0, no. 57 (Dec. 2023): 1-28.

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Akboğa, Sema, and Osman Şahin. Perceptions of Democracy in Turkey: Gender, Ethnic, and Religious Dynamics.” Journal of Economy Culture and Society, vol. 0, no. 57, 2018, pp. 1-28. [Database Container],


Akboğa S, Şahin O. Perceptions of Democracy in Turkey: Gender, Ethnic, and Religious Dynamics. Journal of Economy Culture and Society [Internet]. 3 Dec. 2023 [cited 3 Dec. 2023];0(57):1-28. Available from: doi: 10.26650/JECS356672


Akboğa, Sema - Şahin, Osman. Perceptions of Democracy in Turkey: Gender, Ethnic, and Religious Dynamics”. Journal of Economy Culture and Society 0/57 (Dec. 2023): 1-28.




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