“The Medicalization of Bodies Is a Gendered Practice” – Interview with Burak Taşdizen
30 APRIL 2020
Burak Taşdizen, research associate in the research field “Human, Medicine, and Society” at the Orient-Institut Istanbul, started working at the institute in 2020. In the following interview, which was first published on 17 March 2020 by Max Weber Foundation (https://wissen.hypotheses.org/1928), he talks about his previous and ongoing research..
Burak Taşdizen studied industrial design (B.ID., 2014; M.Sc., 2017) at the Middle East Technical University and is doing his doctoral studies at the Özyeğin University Design, Technology and Society program. His research focuses on technologies in a wider sense, their emancipatory potentials for vulnerable non/human populations and is ethnographically grounded.
What will you be working on while being involved with the “Knowledge Unbound” project and what did you work on before?
I have been working in the Standing Working Group “Iran and Beyond – Breaking the Ground for Scholarly Sustainable Collaboration (IRSSC)”, that is Submodule 2c in the “Knowledge Unbound” project. As part of this project, in our research field “Human, Medicine and Society” at the Orient-Institut Istanbul, I have been working with Dr. Melike Şahinol on a comparative study on masculinities constructed through the re-mapping of men’s facial and bodily hair by (non)medical practices in Muslim majority countries, focusing on Turkey and Iran. We have been scrutinizing the emancipatory potentials of these cosmetic procedures on the individual level, yet we are wary of the consolidation of gender differences through the construction of a particular type of masculinity by (non)medical practices both in medical settings such as clinics and in everyday settings such as beauty salons. The findings of this study will reveal similarities and differences around men’s hair care practices, and thus masculinity ideals, across geographies shaped by different socio-cultural environments.
Previously I worked as a research assistant in an industrial design teaching studio. My definition of and approach to design is extended and thematic, moving away from a professional notion focusing on market-driven product categories towards a more universal and everyday understanding emphasizing novel user_designer practices and their use/design contexts. Rejecting the traditional designerly/anthropological gaze on crafts, I focus on the emancipatory, political potentials of these practices for the practitioner and the user such as community building and placemaking, skill acquisition and dissemination, shaping more-than-human cities, etc. My doctoral research is on non-designer design activisms for nonhuman others in city, focusing on the citizen-led care networks designed and maintained by the citizens of Istanbul for Istanbul’s street cats, discussing domesticated animal’s right to the city (to care and to life) and citizen imaginaries as to how the city could be shaped, all the while challenging the conventional notions of the designer/planner/user of the city.
What role does the concept of “knowledge” play in your own research?
As a qualitative researcher, my research has always been ethnographically grounded. In line with the discussions in feminist technoscience studies, I believe in the plurality and situatedness of knowledge productions. To illustrate this aspect: My ethnographic study of a women’s community of knitting practice has revealed how knitting skills, including copying and adjusting existing knitting patterns – which is looked down on in traditional design education with its emphasis on originality (boundary work of the design discipline) – has emancipatory potentials for adult learning, placemaking and community building. Therefore, my approach to knowledge includes rather than excludes and is pluralist, which emerges through in-situ, ethnographic analyses of everyday practices. In addition, because social phenomena cannot be contained within a bounded temporal framework, but are embedded within a flux of past, present and future influences, the way I produce knowledges is informed by temporality. To exemplify, my doctoral research does also look into the social history of street animals in the late Ottoman Empire and early Republican Turkey in order to better understand how and why, in time, with the modernist reshaping of urban living, Istanbul has become home to the social phenomenon that is ‘cat houses’ which populate its pavements, windows and backyards.
My ethnographic lens, thus the way I organize my knowledge productions, does not discriminate between human and non-human entities (dating apps, microbes, hair, etc.). Informed by the recent material turn in the social sciences, and in particular through an Ingoldian approach, my empirical approach to the study of technological landscapes, and thus to knowledge productions, is not from a distance but rather very hands-on and engaged with the material itself. This sensitivity of mine not only stems from my designer upbringing, but from the need to recognize the agency and self-will (Eigensinn) of the material in question, for which I do not draw the boundary around artefacts only, in order to include in the discussion, say, biotechnical entities such as hair.
Have there been any surprising moments in your research recently?
In our research on the re-mapping of hair in men’s bodies by (non)medical practices, it was surprising to see how the medicalization of bodies is a gendered practice, yet the literature was mostly focusing on medicalization of women’s bodies such as the post-natal or menopausal female body. Although there are historical accounts on men and their hair practices, medicalization of these practices via current technologies remains relatively unexplored in the social sciences. In the past years, more and more men have started to consult medical expertise to (re)shape their bodies, examples of which are hair/beard/moustache transplants. These procedures, for which Istanbul has become a global hub attracting patients from not only Europe and the Middle East, but also from overseas countries such as Brazil, help men regain a more accepted look in society so long as they subscribe to societal norms. Such interventions on men’s bodies become especially interesting when considering the plurality of masculinities, in which only some of them are desired and others are not, and how technologies take an active part in the negotiation and (re)shaping of bodies and thus gender.