Academic freedom is broadly understood as the freedom of teachers and students to teach, study, and pursue knowledge and research without unreasonable interference or restriction from law, institutional regulations, or public pressure. The long-term interests of society are assumed to be best served when the educational process leads to the advancement of knowledge and knowledge is itself best advanced when inquiry is free from restraints by the state, the church, or other institutions and special-interest groups. Since academic freedom is generally invoked in relation to institutions of higher education, it may appear unorthodox to broaden the scope of our discussion of Turkey to the evolution of the educational system as a whole. The justification for adopting this approach is that it serves to elucidate the institutional and ideational backdrop of the rapid and accelerating erosion of academic freedom. Without a prior understanding of the ways in which institutions are refashioned and citizens’ subjectivities are moulded through education at all levels it becomes a great deal harder to comprehend the total collapse of academic freedom currently plaguing establishments of higher education. The drastic transformation of Turkey’s educational landscape under Justice and Development Party (AKP) presents an exemplary case study of the embeddedness of the freedom to think, write, and teach in the vagaries of systems of governance. By chronicling the key phases of these transformations, we attempt to show how education became the site of hegemonic struggles and overt forms of social engineering, culminating in a totalizing vision for a ‘New Turkey’ project that aims to fashion pliant citizen/subjects.

Education as Battleground: The Capture of Minds in Turkey