The British Journal of Sociology Vol IV. No. I. March 1953

Social Ranking in a Turkish Village


THE DEFEAT of the Central Powers in 1918 left Turkey apparently helpless.
Not only were all the provinces of the Ottoman Empire in the hands of the
allies, Istanbul itself was occupied, allied troops were in parts of Anatolia, and
plans were afoot for a division of Turkey among the European Powers. With
British and American support, in contravention of the spirit, if not the letter, of
the armistice, Greek troops were landed at Izmir. Yet four years later, the
Turks, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, better known perhaps by his
adopted name of Ataturk, drove out all foreign troops, and obtained from the
Powers the right to establish an independent and fully sovereign state. The
Sultanate and Caliphate were abolished, and in 1923 the Republic of Turkey
was proclaimed. By a startling series of reforms, Ataturk, a benevolent dictator
acting through a nominally democratic constitution, set Turkey firmly on the
path to westernisation. By 1928, the Islamic monasteries and seats of learning
had been closed, the fez made illegal, the Ottoman legal code replaced by a new
code based directly on European models, and the Arabic script replaced by a
Latin script.

These reforms were followed during the thirties by attempts at industrialization,
and at founding a genuine political opposition and granting a reasonable
freedom of speech and press. After Ataturk's death in 1938, Ismet Inonu, his
lieutenant, stepped into his shoes. The second World War interrupted both
economic and political changes, but since the war, an opposition party has not
only been organised, but in 1950 won a fairly conducted election, which lead to
the resignation of Inonu and Ataturk's original party, though the new
government claims to be as pro-Ataturk as the old. With economic and military
aid from America, Turkey is making rapid economic progress both in
expanding her still very limited industries, and in tackling the problem of
agricultural productivity.

Somewhere about 80 per cent of the population of Turkey are peasants, among
whom, in spite of recent efforts, the illiteracy rate is still high. Very few of the
intellectual revolutionaries realized how slow and inefficient the practical
application of the reforms was bound to prove in rural areas, nor how limited
would be the economic benefits to the peasants. The Republic inherited a
mountainous country with very poor communications, and an administrative
tradition totally unsuited to running a modern state, staffed in many cases by


  people hostile to or incapable of grasping the ideas behind the government
imposed changes. In view of all this the present rate of change in Turkey is as
astonishing as it is interesting. But in this article I propose to tackle a much
more limited subject, and have given these few facts simply to provide a

From October, 1949, to August, 1950, I did field work in a village of Central
Anatolia, which lies out on the plateau about 20 miles to the east of Kayseri. I
wish to describe the system of status in the village—or as I prefer to call it,
following Homans (1) rank. I also use material from a second village which I
am at present engaged in studying, and my statements are based on
observations in other Turkish villages which I have visited or read about,
mostly in the same area.

As far as I can judge, the village, which I shall call S. is typical of the central
plateau villages. I was especially careful to choose a village which was
unexceptional, and in this I seem to have succeeded. The range of wealth was
more limited than in other villages of which I know. The second village, which
I shall here call E, had a clearer class structure, but as my notes are as yet
unanalysed, I shall only make use of general impressions gathered there during
a three-month stay.

First-hand observation obviously gives my account a certain authenticity. But
this does not mean that it should be incautiously accepted as it stands. It is, I
find, almost impossible not to mislead people when attempting to describe a
society to which they are strangers. We must use the terms of our own society
for the social institutions which we wish to describe, but in so doing we are
encouraging people to interpret our account by the experience to which those
terms normally refer for them. In addition, every time I make a general
statement I think of exceptions, and these cannot be stated in full as
qualifications without making the account far too long for my present purpose.
The very familiarity with village life makes me hesitate to make positive
generalisations about it. The same dangers of misleading or oversimplifying are
inherent in any form of social reporting, but the average observer perhaps is
less aware of the complexity of his subject, and therefore less concerned about
these dangers.

S contained about 100 households, and roughly 640 people. It is stone built,
except that one or two families live in caves. Lorries passed daily on their way
to Kayseri, two or three a day most of the time, more at the harvest, and none at
all during the winter snow, which usually lasts from January to March. The
staple crops are rye and wheat, but potatoes, onions, other vegetables, grapes


  and apricots are also grown in small quantities. The village land is not very
fertile, and the villagers say they normally get about five-fold return for their
seed. All cultivable land is owned and cultivated, except for some small areas of
meadow reserved for pasture. There are few steel ploughs; and the normal
method of agriculture is still the wooden plough, drawn by oxen, and the
normal method of transport in the village, the two-wheeled ox-cart.

All land within the village boundaries is owned either by the village as a whole,
for pasture, or by individual villagers as crop land. The only exceptions to this
rule are a few plots which women who have married to other villages within
reach have inherited, which are now worked from their new homes. I give a
table of land holdings in the village.

Although I tried to check the accuracy of these figures by questioning, I made
no attempt to measure. The conversion to acres is not precise, but it may safely
be assumed that any error is in the direction of over-estimation.

It must be remembered, that, as there is a two year fallow system, only half of
this land would be available each year, and very often not all that is ploughed.
Sickness of men or oxen, shortage of seed, adverse weather, may prevent full
use of what land a man has.


6 households owned no land

 IO ,, ,, 3 acres or less
 9 ,, ,, between 3 and IO acres
 3I ,, ,, ,, IO ,, 20 ,,
 3I ,, ,, ,, 20 ,, 33 ,,
 II ,, ,, ,, 33 ,, 53 ,,
 as 53 ,, IOO ,,

Income in the village may be augmented by odd services, such as heading
animals; but many men go away to the towns to earn money for any period
ranging from a week or two to two or three years. Without this external source
of income, the village lands could no longer support the present village
population. S is one of the poorer villages in the area, some of which have still
as much land as they can plough.

These villages, as in other parts of Turkey, are compact clusters of houses,
physically separated by at least half an hour's walk. Since the villages are
residentially highly stable, each forms a clear social unit, and is made up of


  people who know each other's affairs intimately and see each other frequently,
even if they are hostile. Physically, the village in turn consists of distinct
buildings which correspond roughly with the households. Each household
should contain a male head, his wife, or rarely his wives, his male children, and
their wives and children, and his unmarried daughters. Sons ought to, and
normally do, remain with their father until he dies. Then, after an interval of
anything from a few days to years, they separate, and themselves become heads
of households. In practice, owing to infertility, premature death, birth of sons
late in the father's life, and so on, there were only sixteen three-generation
households out of the hundred-odd in the village. Households varied in number
of inhabitants from two, even one, to seventeen, the average being just over

These two social units, the village and the household, are obvious, and easily
defined. But those social groups and divisions which are within the village, but
larger than the household, are vaguer and more nebulous. The most important,
although not always the most conspicuous, groups among the men are the
groups of patrilineal kin.

These groups, which I call " lineages ", are rarely referred to specifically by the
villagers. They have no common property, no common ritual, in fact, no
corporate personality. A man simply owes certain duties towards, and feels a
certain degree of affection for his close agnatic kin. These ties are strongest
between brothers, weaker between brothers' sons, weaker still between
brothers' patrilineal grandsons, and so on with each generation from the
founder. The link is seldom remembered at all more than five generations back,
and some people know only their grandfather's kinsmen. Even where agnatic
connections are known to exist beyond four or five generations, they are not
known precisely nor felt to be of much social importance. When an individual
needs the assistance of his agnates they will come together, not so much out of
loyalty to a corporate group, like men defending their village, but rather because
they all have loyalty to the same individual who is in trouble. The group which
forms on any specific occasion is seldom made up entirely of agnates. Some
matrilateral kinsmen or even neighbours will usually be included.

The lineage's primary duty is defence of its members in quarrels or fights, and
defence of property against aggression. Lineages carry on traditional enmity,
even blood feuds, with each other, and as a result of a quarrel they may break
off all social interaction with each other. On all such occasions, loyalty to the
lineage is a paramount duty. The members of a man's lineage will also be his
main source of help in time of sickness, famine, or other domestic disasters.
The degree of social intercourse between agnatic kindred is more variable. The

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