Student Voices

Travel Report: Veronika Tzankova, Communication

May 23, 2014

Veronika Tzankova, a Doctoral student in Communication, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award to further her research in Turkey. Her report:

I am a recipient of the Graduate International Research Travel Award  for Summer 2013 at Simon Fraser University. The Graduate International Research Travel Award substantially contributed to my research project by allowing me to (1)devote a greater amount of time to my studies, and (2) collect first hand data from the geographical region I study. 

I am a PhD student at the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. My research project investigates the politics of Turkish sexual expression within the domain of online digital media as a reaction to Islamist ideologies promoted by the current government of Turkey. Contemporary Turkish politics are in a dynamic period of ideological conflicts between secular forces and a rise of Islamism at a governmental level. This conflict has limited freedom of speech in physical social reality, but by providing relative anonymity and a sense of security, online media have introduced new channels for open expression. Given the stigmatization of sexual discourse under Islamic morality in Turkish society, the development of online communities around the idea of sexual expression reveals the emergence of social ideologies that do not fully conform to Islamic norms.

To support my research, I spent the summer of 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. I gathered ethnographic data in regard to body politics and their projection in public spaces. For example, I observed that the practice of tattooing has gained a wide recognition despite its taboo status under Islamic norms. Tattoos were common among young Turks. But the most surprising feature of such practices was their social visibility - tattoos were located on parts of the body that can be publicly displayed.  Such a public visibility of body art practices carries a large political significance because of its oppositional relation to Islamic norms and thus to current Turkish governmental politics.

I also conducted numerous unstructured interviews where I gathered participants' opinions about (1) current social trends in sexual norms and understandings; (2) the evolving social / public visibility of body politics / sexuality; and (3) the political significance of such social visibilities.

My stay in Istanbul, Turkey for the summer of 2013 resulted in the publication of an academic article about the causes and effects of women's consumption of pornography in Turkey. The article is forthcoming in early 2015 with Taylor and Francis Publishing Group.

Conducting research outside the geographical region of Canada - while very rewarding- presents also some significant challenges. Requiring local ethics approval (in my case - from a university in Turkey) puts our research at SFU under the control of governments that may have prejudices and impose restrictions that would never be acceptable in Canada. This is particularly the case with Turkey which is in the throes of a right wing Islamist reaction. Research on sexuality and gender relations will become impossible if this requirement is not lifted for Turkey.

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