Development through design: Knowledge, power, and absences in the making of southeastern Turkey

Akıncı, Zeynep S.; Bilgen, Arda; Casellas, Antònia; Jongerden, J.P.


The Foucauldian concept of power-knowledge has been a useful lens to study the idea, discourse, and practice of development. Since the 1980s, many scholars have employed this critical framework to unearth the overlooked power relations created and altered by the concept of development in general, and development projects in particular. This article contributes to this debate by advancing and enriching this perspective. Analyzing a broad number of official sources supporting Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Project (Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi, GAP) and drawing theoretically on the concept of power of Michel Foucault and absences of Boaventura de Sousa Santos, we argue that GAP is part of a state strategy to produce southeastern Turkey by design and the representation of lack. We develop a framework that helps us understand the narratives on the project as a design of absences, a design-power that works as a particular form of power-knowledge. In the terrain of absences, design has become the way to exercise power together with the observation of geography and population. The absences created by the development discourse become a key-feature of design-power. In this sense, GAP is design-power to produce a new region and new subjectivities and works as a particular form of power-knowledge.