Mall Life

Understanding new social boundaries in Istanbul through consumption

by Can Sungu and Ivo Furman


A relatively recent architectural form added to the manufactured landscapes of global political economy, the mall is a ‚quasi-public‘ space that doubles both as a public space and a space dedicated to consumption (Erkıp, 2005, Jewel, 2001). Although there are 109 shopping malls in Istanbul, the phenomena of the mall remains an unexplored topic for Turkish social science research. The emergence of the mall as a public space in Istanbul is related to the ongoing process of neo-liberalization which began in 1980 with the opening up of the Turkish economy to the global market (Öniş & Şenses, 2009). In this context, Istanbul has emerged as the Turkish city in which the intensities and inequalities generated by the process of neo-liberalization are most keenly felt. Migration and inequality in urban centres has created an atmosphere of fear (Ellin, 1997) and the emergence of securitized, quasi-public spaces (Davis, 1992; Koskela, 2000) has turned Istanbul into a bifurcated urban canvas.[ As neo-liberal Turkish society becomes increasingly fragmented along the lines of income distribution and lifestyles (Atasoy, 2008; Arat-Koc, 2008), exclusionary practices and surveillance technologies have become the method through which social milieus are enforced in the control society (Duncan, 1996; Judd, 1995; Sibley, 1995). Within this backdrop, the mall emerges as both a space occupying a vital node in the global economy and as a manufactured, self-referential simulacra (Baudrillard, 1994), an aestheticised version of public space. 

Combining artistic and sociological methods in an interdisciplinary collaboration, our project explores İstinyePark (Appendix I), an up-scale shopping mall in central Istanbul. We argue the system of effects, signs and interruptions at play in İstinyePark subjectivize our spatial experience of the mall, turning it effectively into a ‚place‘. Such techniques are rendered possible through complex technologies and communication systems which produce feelings of belonging, homeliness and nostalgia within the manufactured space of the mall. Essentially, the mall as a semiotic space allows the visitor to experience the feeling of being in public within a carefully regulated environment.

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