New Book Summary

Claude Rosental. 2021. The Demonstration Society. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press

YouTube demos of makeup products by famous influencers, demonstrations of strength during street protests, demonstrations of military might in North Korea: public demonstrations are omnipresent in social life. Yet they are often perceived as isolated events, unworthy of systematic examination. In The Demonstration Society, Claude Rosental explores the underlying dynamics of what he calls a “demonstration society.” He shows how, both in today’s world and historically, public demonstrations constitute not only tools to prove, persuade, and promote, but fundamental forms of interaction and exchange, and, in some cases, attempts to lead the world.

Rosental compares demos with other forms of public demonstrations, drawing out both their peculiarities and common features. He analyzes the processes through which demonstrations are conceived and carried out, as well as the skills of their producers. He also compares contemporary demos with historical demonstrations including theaters of machines in the Renaissance, public demonstrations of natural philosophy in the seventeenth century, and demonstrations of the magic lantern in the nineteenth century. Above and beyond the entertainment they sometimes provide, demonstrations are experienced as intense moments that broadly involve alliances, material and symbolic goods, and, more generally, the future of individuals and collectives. Rosental elucidates the many ways in which we live today, as in the past, in a society of demonstration.

Turkmen, G. (2021). Under the banner of Islam. Turks, Kurds, and the limits of religious unity. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Sunni Islam has played an ambivalent role in Turkey’s Kurdish conflict—both as a conflict resolution tool and as a tool of resistance. Under the Banner of Islam uses Turkey as a case study to understand how religious, ethnic, and national identities converge in ethnic conflicts between co-religionists. Gülay Türkmen asks a question that informs the way we understand religiously homogeneous ethnic conflicts today: Is it possible for religion to act as a resolution tool in these often-violent conflicts?

In search for answers to this question, in Under the Banner of Islam, Türkmen journeys into the inner circles of religious elites from different backgrounds: non-state-appointed local Kurdish meles, state-appointed Kurdish and Turkish imams, heads of religious NGOs, and members of religious orders. Blending interview data with a detailed historical analysis that goes back as far as the nineteenth century, she argues that the strength of Turkish and Kurdish nationalisms, the symbiotic relationship between Turkey’s religious and political fields, the religious elites’ varying conceptualizations of religious and ethnic identities, and the recent political developments in the region (particularly in Syria) all contribute to the complex role religion plays in the Kurdish conflict in Turkey.

Under the Banner of Islam is a specific story of religion, ethnicity, and nationalism in Turkey’s Kurdish conflict, but it also tracks a broader narrative of how ethnic and religious identities are negotiated when resolving conflicts.