Illusory Debates

How the “Sadaka Culture” Discourse Masked the Rise of Social Assistance in Turkey

Gizem Zencirci

Emergent social assistance programmes in developing countries are either considered to possibly signal the transition to a post-neoliberal era, or are taken to constitute a move towards neoliberal welfare governance. By examining the making of a social assistance-based welfare regime in Turkey, I argue that the expansion of social programmes are the product of the neoliberalism-plus conjuncture which takes market inequality as a given. Specifically, this article analyses the similarity of nominally opposed concepts of welfare in the Turkish debate between conservative Islamists and secular Kemalists. By examining the “sadaka culture” debate and the constitutive rights vs. belief binary, the following analysis illustrates that although these two political groups appear to disagree about welfare governance, in reality this on-going debate actually masks the consolidation of social assistance as a welfare norm. I argue that social assistance operates as a bio-political strategy that transforms state power, restructures welfare governance and generates new understandings of poverty, need and aid in the neoliberalism-plus conjuncture.