Begüm Adalet, Hotels and Highways: The Construction of Modernization Theory in Cold War Turkey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?

Begüm Adalet (BA): I was interested in the relatively understudied postwar landscape of Turkey and the effect that various encounters with the United States had on the country’s social scientific, infrastructural, and architectural formations during the early phases of the Cold War. Important work has been produced about the entanglements of the ideas and material manifestations of modernization during the founding years of the country and the post-1980s period, but it seemed as though the Cold War years—an important period—had been somewhat neglected.

Another impetus for writing the book was witnessing the convergence of academic, journalistic, and official efforts to make sense of the early phases of the Arab uprisings. Like their Cold War counterparts who are the protagonists of Hotels and Highways, US scholars, policymakers, and pundits seemed to be rediscovering Turkey as a putative model of democracy and modernization for other Middle Eastern countries to emulate. Turkey’s history of military coups, authoritarian leaders, and the unrelenting persecution of its ethnic minorities were once again forgotten, along with the failures and misunderstandings of an earlier era of experiments with modernization. In emphasizing the Cold War roots of the resurgent trope of the Turkish model, I wanted to draw attention to the political effects of social scientists’ theories and research agendas, as well as their historical (and ongoing) entanglements with empire and grand schemes of development.

J:  What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?

BA: Hotels and Highways focuses on a particular moment of knowledge production, namely the crafting and application of modernization theory, as a central component of both American Cold War policy and domestic politics in Turkey. Experts and policymakers relied on the “Turkish model of modernization” to promote the developmental and capitalistic vision of American foreign policy and its core ideological offering, modernization. Their efforts also intersected with local ideas and political projects, such as policies of internal colonialism and dispossession, as well as the efforts to transition to private enterprise and to entice foreign capital and expertise.

While acknowledging that Turkish-American encounters were marked by unequal power relations, I argue that modernization, as theory and as a set of contested and evolving practices, was not simply developed by American intellectuals but was coproduced at multiple and material sites. So, for example, I use the private papers of German political scientist Dankwart Rustow to explore the crucial work of translation and mediation that he performed between the United States, where he received his PhD and taught, and Turkey, where he did his undergraduate work and returned in later years to enlist local allies for the making of modernization theory. I also foreground Rustow as a figure who is exemplary of the hesitations and anxieties that mark expert thinking and practice. While his familiarity with the Turkish case provided the basis for his contributions to some of the pathologies of modernization theory, such as its valorization of elite-led development and military modernization, I am perhaps more interested in the moments of doubt and uncertainty that he shared with his colleagues, which I argue were in fact central to the production of social scientific knowledge.

In addition to chronicling the uncertainties and political effects of knowledge production, the book also uncovers how political theories are manufactured in material and concrete spaces where they can be staged and worked upon. I argue that experts and policymakers identified the capacity for empathy, mobility, and hospitality as the primary indices of development, and they built microcosms where these attitudes could be measured and incubated. Important sites of theory construction included survey research, highways, and tourism landmarks such as the Istanbul Hilton Hotel, each of which is the subject of a chapter of the book. For instance, I examine highway construction as an effort that brought together questions of modernization on multiple scales, including the measurement and direction of Turkey’s postwar economy, debates about public versus private sector developmentalism, and the ongoing interior colonial project in Kurdish-populated areas. Highways also occasioned the creation of a relationship with the United States based on the transfer of machinery and expertise, as well as the production of civil engineers and peasants as particular types of social and temporal subjects. In that respect, the book is in conversation with studies that situate knowledge production, and especially developmental thought and practice, in its Middle Eastern context (Tim Mitchell, Zach Lockman, Nathan Citino, Bob Vitalis), accounts of expertise and infrastructure (James Scott, Tania Li, Brian Larkin), and important work that examines projects of Cold War “modernization” and capitalist restructuring both globally and specifically in Turkey (David Engerman, Victoria de Grazia, Sibel Bozdoğan and Esra Akcan, Tolga Tören).

J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

BA: I hope that this book will appeal to political theorists and political scientists who are interested in intellectual and disciplinary history, empire, political economy, and the Cold War; historians and anthropologists of development and infrastructure; sociologists of knowledge and science and technology studies; and anyone who is interested in Turkey and in the relationship between the Middle East and the United States more broadly. The book gives an empirically grounded narrative that reveals connections between ideas, intellectual histories, and infrastructures, and it foregrounds the relationships between personal biographies and material constructions. It also outlines how these came bear on both political practices and the social engineering of modern subjectivities. I hope that these issues would be of interest to a broad range of interdisciplinary audiences.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

BA: I am currently finishing two essays on the novelist and activist James Baldwin. The first piece reassesses his status as a symbol of Third World solidarity through an examination of what I call his “politics of comparison.” The second one considers Baldwin as a mediator of the Kennedy presidency in Turkey during the 1960s.

A second, larger project examines various land reform initiatives in postwar Turkey through their embroilments with forced displacement and resettlement policies, and the uneven distribution of mechanical and chemical technologies. I consider land reform as a matter of political economy, statecraft, and governmental rule of populations, but also an important site for debates about the appropriate strategy for revolutionary politics in leftist circles through the 1960s and 1970s.

J: What lessons can we learn from the history of modernization theory?

BA: I think many political scientists devote at most a week to modernization theory in field seminars, and they tend to talk about it as an embarrassing episode in the history of the discipline, one that we have moved beyond thanks to our sophisticated models and methods. Yet many of the core tenets of this theory were invoked in order to legitimize the reconstruction projects of post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan. Social scientists once again teamed up with counterinsurgency experts in their efforts to shape the attitudes and beliefs of local populations, and they continue to write about international development and democracy promotion by drawing on the premises of modernization theory. Engaging more closely with the histories and concrete effects of our theories might provide an entry point into the contemporary politics of knowledge production and our role in it.


Excerpt from Chapter One:

Since comparative government stakes its claims wider than heretofore, we can no longer permit the existence of white spots
on our map of the world, of areas of knowledge unexplored or neglected either in terms of political geography or out of self-restraint. . . . Comparative government, conceived as a total science, must see to it that such tangible gaps are filled at the earliest opportunity.

—Karl Loewenstein, “Report on the Research Panel on Comparative Government”

The political scientist who insists that the world is his oyster is likely to suffer a bad case of indigestion.

—Dankwart Rustow, “Modernization and Comparative Politics: Prospects in Research and Theory”

POLITICAL SCIENTIST Dankwart A. Rustow of Princeton University spent the 1958–1959 academic year in Turkey, during which time he delivered a lecture to the political science faculty of Ankara University about recent developments in the study of comparative government in the United States. In his speech, Rustow exulted the turn away from the previous “ethnocentrism” of his discipline but also noted the difficulties awaiting field researchers, such as problems of language, insufficient statistical data, changing political systems, and foreign cultural settings. Despite the predicaments beleaguering the study of comparative politics, Rustow did not hesitate to carve out the crucial role that Turkey would play in its reconfiguration; thanks to the legacy of Kemalist reforms, he said, the country’s experience with westernization preceded that of its counterparts in the recently developing world, and “it is for this reason that at this moment when comparative government is being extended to the whole world, research in the political and historical system of the Republic of Turkey is exceptionally significant.” Given the conditions for the emergence of a “worldwide science,” Rustow added, “Turkish citizens of the political science profession,” rather than foreign scholars, should contribute to its practice in this country, whose transformation would then cast light on processes of westernization elsewhere.

Although Rustow’s audience was receptive to his narrative of Turkish exceptionalism, one issue remained in dispute during the roundtable discussion that followed: his assertion that comparison in political science could be viewed as akin to the laboratory experience in the natural sciences. In his summary of the discussion, Bahri Savcı, professor of law and political science, reiterated Rustow’s contention that the aim of comparative politics was to “investigate the institutions of nations with different variables, and thus arrive at a law, a theory that is applicable to all,” but he added that “some participants in the conference pointed out the dangers of arriving at ‘laws’ in this scientific area that does not have the laboratory experience. . . . In the end, it was concluded that the actual aim is the search for ‘trends,’ rather than laws.” Although Rustow proposed Turkey as one site of fact gathering for the laboratory of comparative politics, his scientific certitude was undercut by the skepticism of his audience, who were designated as the subjects of this new approach and its future practitioners alike.

This brief encounter between Rustow and the Turkish social scientists was emblematic of the stakes involved in the production and dissemination of knowledge pertaining to nonwestern areas in the postwar years. The Cold War presented an important context for “discipline-defining mythologies,” that is, revisionist accounts about the origins of political science. During this period, scholars reformulated their work in terms of political exigencies, national security, and international development, and they tried to distance themselves from previous social scientific engagements with projects of racial uplift and imperialism. As students of comparative politics struggled to rewrite their disciplinary histories and to abandon what they reenvisioned as their foregoing “parochialism,” their ostensibly newfound interest in particular locales was propelled by their search for “law-like regularities.” In the words of one practitioner, their goal was “to advance, in the form of rather bold and un- qualified statements, generalized models of the political process common in non-Western societies.” As Rustow’s speech suggested, social scientists traveling to their research sites believed that their task entailed procuring data and propagating the methods and theories being crafted in an emergent comparative laboratory. This conceptual exercise rested on behavioralist presuppositions and involved a rational and systematic foray into the meaning and content of social change, now defined as modernization. Even though the social scientific laboratory was seemingly situated in the ideal realm, coordinates of the local and the material were retained within it, given its position as a reflection and reversal of the world. The claims to scientific abstraction and universalism crisscrossed with the demands for personal familiarization with “exceptional” research sites, whose specific conditions resulted in detours and roadblocks in the itineraries of “traveling theories.”

One site for fashioning modernization theory was Turkey, which researchers cast as a model that would help elucidate and instigate development across the Middle East. Deemed to be at once “exceptional” and “significant” by self-proclaimed specialists, Turkey was treated as both a site of fact gathering for comparative politics and the telos of modernization processes elsewhere, thereby displaying a split character and temporality as an object of inquiry and intervention alike. Yet the dissemination of modernization theory and its axioms was derailed by the ambivalence of local collaborators and the hesitations of those undertaking social scientific work in the United States. The teleological narrative so central to visions of modernization was undermined in its own trajectory: inasmuch as its proponents hoped to present modernization theory as the highest stage of the social sciences, its instantiations in specific locales belied its claims to universality and inevitability.

The study of foreign locales through the lens of modernization theory was by no means a unidirectional process, given the necessity to enroll and translate the interests of the Turkish scholars and policy makers who actively participated in the negotiation and assembly of these traveling theories. It is for this reason that intermediary figures such as Dankwart Rustow positioned themselves as “obligatory passage points” through which flows of information and knowledge traversed the Atlantic. These intermediary figures were furnished with the task of translating the particular into the abstract and the universal, but their work was offset by instances of profound ambivalence, deficient knowledge of the field, and circuitous movement at best. Rustow surfaces as an erratic itinerant in this narrative—a latter-day dragoman who contributed to the efforts to extrapolate from the Turkish example to the rest of the Middle East.

This chapter begins by contextualizing the emergence of modernization theory and its Turkish archetype in the postwar period. I then turn to the work of Dankwart Rustow and his participation in Turkey’s laboratization in academic and policy circles. Rustow’s travels between various institutions, such as the Committee on Comparative Politics (CCP) of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), underscore the entwined nature of the conduct of American social science and policy production. Rustow’s familiarity with the Turkish case led him to reproduce the predilection of these circles for top-down reform and elite-led development. But his conversations with incredulous Turkish and American colleagues also came to inform his increasingly critical attitude towards their theories and methods. Historians of Cold War modernization have sketched compelling portraits of dissenters and cynics but have often situated them at the margins of mainstream conversations. This chapter focuses on Rustow as an uncertain translator between Turkish and American social scientists, thus recovering both the local elements of modernization theory and instances of doubt and hesitation that were central to its construction.

Amnesiac Histories

In the first issue of Items, SSRC’s official publication, Pendleton Herring, who served as the president of the council between 1948 and 1968, argued that social science’s loyalty “to the scientific method” made it “entitled to be called a science no matter whether its data are atoms or voters.” Herring praised the vision of a “social science technician” who was equipped with “dealing with social forces, . . . an individual who has been professionally trained to apply to practical situations the facts, generalizations, principles, rules, laws, or formulae uncovered by social science research.” The responsibility of the technician was to offer objectively analytical thought, to “diminish wishful thinking and substitute factual analysis for special pleading,” and to use “social data for the cure of social ills as doctors use scientific data to cure bodily ills.”

The triumphalism of such narratives has led to depictions of “Cold War social science” as a novel site for the promotion of scholarship as social engineering. The figure of the social-science technician was in fact celebrated well before the Cold War, with scholars lending their expertise to the challenges of imperial administration and civilizational uplift during westward expansion and overseas ventures into the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. During the interwar years, major foundations continued to envision “social inquiry as a means of social change.” World War II initiated a substantial scholarly relocation towards government research centers, such as the Office of War Information and the Office of Strategic Services, which was the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). These institutions were the wartime abode of many social scientists, among them Gabriel Almond, Daniel Lerner, Ithiel de Sola Pool, and Edward Shils. The “Cold War” framework allowed for the justification of particular modes of inquiry into the decolonizing world, such as psychological warfare, propaganda, and counterinsurgency research. In this new episode of the relationship between political power and political science, the turn towards area studies abetted the creation of a “sovereign structure of universal knowledge,” as Tim Mitchell puts it, which was “itself part of the project of a globalized American modernity to which the Cold War also belonged.”

The end of World War II also brought with it the possibility of rewriting the history and mission of comparative politics. Political scientist Karl Loewenstein, for instance, credited the war for the end of the “tedious and stagnating routine” of comparative government and insisted on the need for an “intimate knowledge” of the political institutions and attitudes of wartime enemies and potential allies alike; comparative government was to “assume the character of a ‘total’ science [so that it could] serve as a conscious instrument of social engineering.” In his case, the call of total science entailed signing up for The Emergency Advisory Committee for Political Defense and leading a campaign of mass incarceration against leftists in the name of “militant democracy” across Latin America. Loewenstein, along with such fellow German émigrés as Sigmund Neumann and Dankwart Rustow, was also responsible for the proliferation of accounts hailing the “new interest in the politics of Asia, of the Near East, and of Africa for the first time.” Such proclamations erased the history of social scientific entanglements with imperialism and global capitalism and with local and internationalist struggles against both. They paved the way for a new alignment between processes of knowledge production and the attempted diffusion of that knowledge to foreign locales.

An important product of the stated need to blend ventures in social engineering and social science in the postwar period was modernization theory. This theory was informed by the structural functionalism of Talcott Parsons and Edward Shils, and it held that development could be read as a process endowing society with a distinct adaptive capacity. The sociologists’ evolutionary lexicon was one legacy of neo-Lamarckian ideas rehearsed in The Journal of Race Development, the precursor to Foreign Affairs, at the turn of the century. These assumption of a teleological, linear path towards progress was heavily rooted in racialized theories of social evolution and understood the United States to be the yardstick of development. Modernization theory postulated a singular process of transition from traditional to modern societies, incorporating such turning points as the rise of mass media, urbanization, rates of literacy, and industrialization. Throughout the 1960s, these sweeping transformations were depicted through tropes of preconceived stages and replicable processes of social mobilization. Such theories would give license not only to interventionist projects over the years but also to practitioners’ belief that post-war political science was “pressing into strange lands and experimenting with exotic concepts,” adopting comparison as “the very essence of the scientific method.