Traveling Loyalties: Politics of Belonging Beyond Nation and Empire

Persianische Briefe Montesquieu
Early Illustration of Usbek and Rica (Montesquieu, Lettres Persanes)

Traveling Loyalties: Politics of Belonging Beyond Nation and Empire develops a new political theoretical framework for belonging. While we frequently hear that we are living in an age of globalization that is unlike any other period in history, the most recent images coming from the Mediterranean are those of a world where borders are tightly controlled by nation-states and supranational entities such as the European Union. The language used to legitimate this paradoxical state of affairs and to demarcate the borders of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa remains deeply rooted in the long and complex history of transnational interactions between these regions. Eighteenth and nineteenth century travels and travelers across the Mediterranean offer glimpses into the complexity of contemporary borders and boundaries of belonging. They also allow us to trace how the complex networks of geographic, cultural, social, and political loyalties consolidated into nationalist, Orientalist, and Orientalizing dichotomies. This book focuses on the rich archives of travels between two key imperial forces of the modern period, France and the Ottoman Empire, to develop belonging as a key concept of modern and contemporary political thought. 

“The beautiful face of liberty being rescued” (Tr.Didâr-ı hürriyet kurtarılıyor): Ottoman postcard commemorating the promulgation of the 1876 Constitution

Although contemporary theories of citizenship and identity engage with the effects of globalization on processes of identification and community attachment, they often neglect the ways in which belonging was politically mobilized prior to the consolidation of the nation-state. Using a diverse collection of primary texts, ranging from Montesquieu’s Lettres Persanes to the first Ottoman novel, Akabi Hikâyesi, and materials from archives in France and Turkey, the book argues that modalities not institutions, better capture how belonging, an affective sensibility, becomes politically mobilized. “Modalities of belonging” refer to the distinct linguistic and discursive fields in which gendered, geographic, religious, ethnic, and cultural differences transform into political ones. The book identifies four such modalities: encounter, translation, conversion, and resistance. Each of these modalities serve as an interpretive lens to examine the emergence of what can be called a transnational imaginary of belonging. In this transnational imaginary, cross-culturally shared ideas of religion, geography, ethnicity, and perhaps most importantly, masculinity, femininity, and sexuality, provided the terms of identity and difference. Focusing on linguistic and ideological patterns of belonging shared across the Ottoman Empire and France, the book’s theoretical framework highlights the historical and philosophical entanglements between Europe and the Middle East, Christianity and Islam, and the so called “East” and “West.”