Brian Silverstein

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Director, Arizona Center for Turkish Studies

About Brian Silverstein

I am a cultural anthropologist and my current research examines technopolitics and institutional reform in Turkey, in the area of statistics in particular. Statistics is the heading of one of the chapters in Turkey's EU entry negotiations, and the collection and use of statistics in Turkey has taken on a new importance and new roles and functions in the country as they become more tighly integrated into apparatuses of government. At the same time wide-ranging agricultural reforms are being carried out, and this project examines statistics as part of new mechanisms being developed for the generation of knoweldge about agriculture, and the role they play in actually changing the country's agricultural practices. Statistics turn out to be 'technical,' but also eminently social and political phenomena, so studying statistical reforms is a lens on emergent regimes of knowledge and power in Turkey, and the selves they are involved in producing. This work reflects my continuing interest in commensuration across histories and socialities.  

Earlier work was on religion and modernity in Turkey, culminating in a book entitled Islam and Modernity in Turkey. Drawing on two years of fieldwork in Turkey and archival work with late Ottoman materials, the book brings together genealogical (critical histories of the status of the present) and ethnographic work on Islamic traditions of discourse and practice in Turkey. I argue that to an extent unprecedented and unparalleled in the Muslim world a majority of Turks consider Islam to be primarily a matter of personal choice and private belief, and show how such an arrangement came about. In the process I explain why observant, even conservative Muslims in Turkey do not see such a conception and practice of Islam as illegitimate. The book first establishes the nature of contemporary Islamic discourses and practices and the status of modernity in Turkey as initiated by Ottoman reform movements (in contrast to colonialism); then examines Islamic practices as techniques of ethical self-formation and how these are structurally transformed by the mass mediation and liberalization of the social, economic and political environment; and finally analyzes how this liberalization has transformed the religious sphere, the nature of politics, and the place of moral discourse in public life.

Selected Publications

 The Social Lives of Numbers: Statistics, Reform and the Remaking of Rural Life in Turkey. Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. DOI: 10.1007/978-981-15-9196-9

"Commensuration, Performativity and the Reform of Statistics in Turkey," American Ethnologist, 45(3), 2018. DOI: 10.1111/amet.12668  

“Modernity.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology. Ed. John Jackson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0167

"Statistics, Reform, and Regimes of Expertise in Turkey," Turkish Studies, 15(4), 2014. DOI: 10.1080/14683849.2014.983690

“Sufism and Everyday Ethics in Turkey,” in Donna Lee Bowen and Becky Schulthies, eds. Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East, 3rd ed. Bloomington: Indiana U Press, 2014.


  Islam and Modernity in Turkey. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

 "The Subject of Reform in Turkey: Liberalization as Government and Critique," Anthropology Today, 26(4), 2010.

 "Sufism and Governmentality in the Late Ottoman Empire," Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 29(2), 2009.

 "Disciplines of Presence in Modern Turkey: Discourse, Companionship and the Mass Mediation of Islamic Practice," Cultural Anthropology, 23(1), 2008.

 "Sufism and Modernity in Turkey: From the Authenticity of Experience to the Practice of Discipline," in M. van Bruinessen and J. Day Howell, eds. Sufism and the Modern in Islam, London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.

"Islamist Critique in Modern Turkey: Hermeneutics, Tradition, Genealogy," Comparative Studies in Society and History, 47(1), 2005.

"Newspapers and Print Media: Turkey" and "Radio and TV: Turkey" entries in Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa, Rev. Ed. R. Simon, R. Bulliet, et. al. eds. New York: MacMillan, 2004.

"Islam and Modernity in Turkey: Power, Tradition and Historicity in the European Provinces of the Muslim World," Anthropological Quarterly, 76(3), 2003.  [Reprinted in David Westerlund and Ingvar Svanberg, eds. Islam in the West: Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies. London: Routledge, 2010.]

"Discipline, Knowledge and Imperial Power in Central Asia: 19th Century Notes for a Genealogy of Social Forms," Central Asian Survey, 21(1), 2002.

Courses Taught

ANTH 150B: Many Ways of Being Human: Globalization

ANTH 200 Cultural Anthropology

ANTH 305 Cultural Change

ANTH/SOC 310 Culture and the Individual

ANTH/RELI 411/511 Religion and Secularism

ANTH/HIST/NES 459A/559A Turkey: Culture, Power & History

ANTH/HIST 612 Modernity

ANTH 613 Culture and Power

ANTH 696B Neoliberalism and After

Areas of Study

Turkey, Europe, Middle East


The Social World of Olive Oil in Turkey (2019-)

Research Interests

Culture & technology, quantification, food systems, institutional reform, religion and secularism, social and political theory, historiography.