“I love life so fiercely, so desperately, that nothing good can come of it: I mean the physical facts of life, the sun, the grass, youth. It’s a much more terrible vice than cocaine, it costs me nothing, and there is an endless abundance of it, with no limits: and I devour, devour. How it will end, I don’t know” Pasolini

Sami is a 17-year old young worker who lives in a neighbourhood next to an industrial cluster (1000 factories in different size) of Istanbul, where I did research in 2007. The area reminds the conditions of the nineteenth century Manchester as depicted by Engels.

Emigrated from the Mediterrenean region of Turkey 10 years ago with his family, he refused to be part of the school system despite all his cleverness. His father, a highly qualified skilled worker in a very big factory in the area and who would be able to afford the higher education of his son, was very disappointed when he discovered that his son prefers hanging out with mates rather than attending his classes and did force him to work as an apprentice. Sami does not like to be an apprentice, he hates school but he does not praise manual labour like the “lads” of Paul Willis, who, by refusing to be part of school system and appreciating macho male culture, reproduced themselves as working class like their fathers rather than trying to go to the upper echelons of the social ladder…Sami knows that he has to work somehow, but he wants to set up his own business. He does not know what to do though. He dreams of becoming a hairdresser, for he has many friends who do this job. But what he likes the most is to spend time in the patisserie and help the waiter friends near his home since he can talk to people, play the music he wants there, hang out with friends when they are around…In fact, this is how I met him. I was having tea in my fieldwork break in that patisserie and heard this Turkish rap music which was unusual for the area (where workers and residents like more traditional type of music called ‘arabesk’). I asked who recorded that music and the waiter introduced me to Sami.

Sami is a young boy full of life. He hates the migrants who came to his neighbourhood from the Eastern regions of Turkey. He has mediterrenean skin, blood and temper….he humiliates the Eastern men by saying that they are underdeveloped. For him, the culture of those Eastern  migrant workers is backward, their personality underdeveloped. That is his close friends are the Turks who emigrated in the late 1980s to Turkey from the Balkans and were settled in that area. Those migrants are more open-minded and do not have the conservative beliefs as many other residents to have in the area.

The outfit of Sami is really like a middle class boy; so is his closest friend, the son of a Turkis family who emigrated from the Balkan region, who complains about his friend by saying that Sami is very naive and hangs out with stupid guys especially when they have some motorcycle to lend to Sami… He also tells me that Sami’s father forced him to work as an apprentice. Sami had hidden this information from me, because he was ashamed of it. Shame, as the most powerful feeling in working class boys, appears in different forms and contexts to me and turns out to be a major emotional ground for the reproduction of class cleavages. 

Sami hates the area he lives. He only enjoys a few modern cafes with leather sofas, billiard tables, plasma big screen TVs with music channels (which are rare but still do exist in the neighbourhood) When I ask what he does with friends, he says “nothing”…a nothing like the one pronounced by the working class boys interviewed by P. Corrigan in England..a nothingness which also reminds the negation of subjectivity by Accatone of Pasolini. Ilker does nothing in fact, he hangs out here and there, at this cafe and the patisserie a little bit, serves customers only when he wants (the owner likes him a lot, he knows how to make himself loved with his very warm personality) and then avoids apprenticeship as much as he can….Yes, again like Accatone of Pasolini, he is refusing to work, to be part of the capitalist work process, neither as capitalist, nor as worker, trying to enjoy life but finds resources in others (women to sell for the pimps of Pasolini, family money for Sami). But if he were given money, he would spend it with friends, would not invest in something….His mind is not working like a businessman neither.

Sami is full of life. You can feel it when you talk to him. He is also respectful. He offers his help to me, to teachers who come to live in the area. He even promises me to find a place to stay during the fieldwork. He is proud of knowing a lot of people and helping them in getting into contact with others. His body shows that his family cares about him, does not push him to work hard. He is not like those workers who have to work 16 hours a day, with tired bodies and faces. Sami’s eyes are shining, a bit scared about the future, but still live the present moment. He has one brother and one sister but he is so disinterested that he can t remember which class they are attending. And he is honest: He confesses that he is not a good brother to remember what his sister and brother are doing…He does not feel responsible. But he is very much attached to his friends.

Sami complains about his father who does not like earrings for males, who does not like the music he listens to. But still, he respects him in a certain way, even if he is angry with him for bringing him to that area. Sami feels stuck over there. He does not understand why this researcher came all the way from England to learn smg about his neighbourhood. I try to explain my research – it does not make any sense to him. Then I laugh and say: “I felt that a young intelligent boy like you would help me a lot, I had this intuition and therefore I have chosen this area.” This, he believes more than other scientific reasons I gave before.

Sami is not representative of the young working class boys living in the area. But he represents something else: He represents a natural desire and appetite for life, which is repressed inthousands of the young workers walking every morning to the factories where tea breaks are not allowed, strikes are punished, working hours extended. The desire is repressed because it did not have any chance to flourish due to the labour discipline of factory life. The bodies of many of the young workers were imprisoned before they could dream of an alternative; they had no other choice, they had to work in order to survive, in order to give money to families. Sami’s unusual existence which does not fit this neighbourhood is a constant reminder to the unfulfilled desires and appetites of other workers, which is invisible in the everyday practices of social life in an industrial cluster.

Journalists kept recording the small collective actions in the factories, which continued to proliferate despite extreme forms of repression. Those actions have a lot to tell about the extraordinary resistance of workers’ bodies and minds, a powerful possibility for negativity. Sami’s nothingess, fear of being a worker, hate of the school system, his indifference to what social order offers to him yet his attachment to life and friends, his refusal to think about the future but willingness to enjoy the present are not necessarily more liberating, yet tell something equally powerful about other workers. In Sami’s body (the exception in the neighbourhood) is hidden a potential unfulfilled for the worker’s body (the rule in the neighbourhood). Then, the exception is no longer a deviation from the rule; it suddenly turns into a proof of the unnaturalness of the rule.

Istanbul, May 2007


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