Arriving at each new city, the traveller finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.
― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
I grew up in Athens, Greece in the midst of a military dictatorship, initially oblivious to it, but increasingly aware of the symbolic and physical violence inherent in the sanitized and sterile dystopia a handful of arrogant, mediocre army officers had been trying to impose on a society that was still trying to recover from a bitter civil war. I grew up in a house full of books, and failed to learn to play the piano but became fluent in French and English fairly early on. In hindsight, I would describe my schooling as a mixed bag of tedious reproduction of clichés and kitsch about the nation, religion and patriarchy with instances of enlightened immersion in classics and humanities. I do still remember some brilliant teachers I encountered in my school years: one of my primary school teachers moonlighted as a poet and writer and shared his secret passions with a class of eleven-year-olds; others challenged the formalistic and sanitized school curriculum prescribed by conservative policy-makers in an educational system that was geared towards forgetting the past (the pre-war polarization, a string of dictatorships, a bitter civil war underlined by divides that still resonate today) and penalizing initiative and critical thinking. I still remember my ‘unconventional’ junior high school religious studies teacher who dared to recommend that we ditch our catechism and liturgy books and taught Fromm, Krishnamurti and Marcuse to a class of bewildered teenagers and I do regret that, at the time, we mistook her passion and commitment for eccentricity. During these years, I developed an aversion to uniforms, military parades, and to the tune of military marches, as well as a liking for rock music* that had acquired the aura of the forbidden fruit in a country that sought to contain the whirlwind of change.
After finishing my secondary education, (and, by the way, developing more diversified musical tastes) I was planning to study economics (for no obvious or logical reason other than the total lack of career counselling) but, by sheer luck, the otherwise rigid and bureaucratic Greek university admissions system of the time landed me at Panteion University where I studied politics and international studies (alongside a generous dose of history law and economics) under the guidance of some of the most enthusiastic and innovative university teachers in Greece at the time. As the country was undergoing a period of political transition, and what was later described in the literature as ´Europeanization’ and, while it experienced phenomena widely described as populism and clientelism, it felt like living in what would be the closest thing to a political sociologist’s lab.
In 1985, after graduating (alas, second in my year), I attended a political sociology graduate seminar at Panteion University (the closest thing to postgraduate studies in politics in Greece at the time) and, having obtained a NATO-funded postgraduate fellowship, I enrolled at the department of Sociology and Social Anthropology of the University of Kent at Canterbury. My research project there focused on populism from a social movement perspective.
Over the next few years, like a child in a candy shop, I could not resist the lure of critical theory (of all hues and flavours) and of psychoanalytical studies (and this does not mean only Lacan!) alongside more mainstream political and social theory. In that, formative for me, period I took political sociology, social anthropology and politics postgraduate classes.
I also actively participated in one of Kent’s interdisciplinary experiments – the Communication and Image Studies programme and became active in the Critical Lawyers’ Group.
It was during that time that I also started teaching sociology and being interested in the study of nationalism, post-communist politics, conflict, the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the politics of what eventually became the Western Balkans. I also became an avid cook and baker and wore out four bicycles cycling around Kent and Sussex (ok, I smashed one on a stone fence inconveniently located in the middle of my route coming down Tyler Hill). I also took time to protest against a lot of things including an unpalatable government, the Gulf War and the atrocious food served in Rutherford College and ‘interrailed’ a lot throughout Europe until I found myself without a passport as I had to suffer the consequences of not doing my military service back in Greece – this last experience made me see airports as places of happy reunions and sad goodbyes – in a totally different light than most travellers flying off to exotic places for their holidays or returning from them, but that is another story…
In 1993, I joined the University of Portsmouth as a Research Fellow to work on a project on nationalism in Europe which eventually culminated in 1996 in what was hailed as an ‘intriguing overview of the role(s) of nationalism in Europe and the issues that will continue to stoke the fires of nationalism into the twenty-first century’ – Nation and Identity In Contemporary Europe. The book adopted an interdisciplinary social constructivist approach to the nationalisms that had gained currency in Europe of the time – North and South, West and East.
At the same time, I worked with the University’s Mediterranean Research Group which sought to explore the region surrounding the Mediterranean as precisely that, a region, and understand better the impact of Europe’s Mediterranean policies on it and eventually became its director. I also negotiated with Carfax and, subsequently, Taylor and Francis, the transformation of the in-house-produced Journal of Area Studies into what eventually became the Journal of Contemporary European Studies, a trans- and inter-disciplinary journal that focuses on the broader processes within Europe and the role of Europe in the world, and became its first managing editor and, subsequently a member of its editorial committee until December 2022.
Soon after, after much thought and soul searching, I temporarily returned to Greece to do my military service. My “tour of duty” started at a training camp in Northern Crete informally designated as a camp for conscripts classified as illiterate, or who had failed to report for duty in time, and “returnees” (mainly Greeks from the former Soviet Union “returning” to a ‘homeland’ that they barely knew). As I started flirting with the idea of conducting ethnographic research in my non-existent spare time, I was transferred to a camp buried in snow in the northernmost part of Greece, where it meets Bulgaria and Turkey, where, the only distraction in the frozen winter nights was music from Edirne’s radio stations just on the other side of the border.
Although one could assume that my interest in Turkey was related to that garrison posting, the fact is that this had its origins in the early eighties when I travelled throughout the country in the immediate aftermath of the brutal coup d’état headed by General Kenan Evren and took Turkish studies as part of my first degree.
I returned to Portsmouth as a Senior Research Fellow and, later, Senior Lecturer in international politics. I worked with colleagues to set up the Centre for European Studies Research (CESR) which soon became one of the centres of excellence in European and international studies in Britain (now Centre for European and International Studies Research – CEISR). In 2000, I moved to Kingston University as a Senior Research Fellow where I worked to launch Kingston’s MSc in International Conflict which I also directed for six of its formative years. I also worked to bring to Kingston the Vane Ivanovic library with its unique collection of rare books and correspondence related to former Yugoslavia and, together with a handful of colleagues, established the Helen Bamber Centre for the Study of Rights, Conflict and Mass Violence.
In 2008, I coauthored Tormented by History: Nationalism in Greece and Turkey, the first comparative study of nationalism in Greece and Turkey tracing the emergence and development of the Greek and Turkish nationalist projects over the past two hundred years.
The book challenges the received wisdom about the inevitability of the rise of a ‘Greek’ and a ‘Turkish’ nation and examines the ways these identifications prevailed over alternative ones.
Translated to Greek in the same year as Το Βάσανο της Ιστορίας: Ο Εθνικισμός στην Ελλάδα και την Τουρκία and to Turkish in 2013 as Tarihin Cenderesinde: Yunanistan ve Türkiye’de Milliyetçilik it was described as ‘a most impressive text, drawing together, and in a very fluent and integrated way, the histories and debates on nationalism in Greece and Turkey. […]’ and ‘a remarkable example, too rare in this world, of collaboration by intellectuals from two rival states and also, given the sensibilities involved, a most courageous and valiant intervention’ by the late Fred Halliday.
After leaving Kingston, I joined the Center for Middle Eastern Studies of Lund University in Sweden where I worked for a decade as a Lecturer, Research Coordinator and, later on, member of the Centre Steering Group. It was a time of innovation as I was given the opportunity to work on curriculum development as well as teach in the area of Middle Eastern studies for Lund’s transdisciplinary MA in Middle Eastern Studies and, later on, the BA in Middle Eastern Studies stream. I also supervised MA dissertations in European Studies at Lund and as an external supervisor at Stockholm University and lectured at the Human Rights Summer School of the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul.
It was also at that time that my interest in collective action and social/political identity formation prompted me to embark on an ambitious research project on European Muslim identities that involved fieldwork in five European countries.
The project culminated in a coauthored book – Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks, published in 2013.
The book was hailed by Professor Jørgen S. Nielsen as ‘a valuable pointer to future lines of research … taking the reader beyond analysis of society and politics,’ … ‘focusing on the complex and tense field of the conceptual: in what ways are Muslims in Europe European Muslims; what do events and related discourses do to affect the formation of European Muslim identities?’
Other research focused on authoritarianism and social movements in the Middle East, ‘the political sociology of ISIS’ and polarization and democracy – this, latter interest informed Project Mosaic: Polarization, Morality, Solidarity and Civility for Democratic Dialogue and the Development of Shared Horizons which received funding from SIDA and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights.
In parallel with this work, I also enrolled at the University of Copenhagen from which I was awarded a PhD in Politics, Cross-Cultural & Regional Studies in 2020.
I returned to a Brexit-affected UK in 2021 to join the Middle East Centre of the London School of Economics and Political Science where I have been working on projects on urban citizenship in the Middle East (funded by the LSE Kuwait Programme), the political and cultural identities of British Muslim youth (funded by the LSE Research and Impact Support Fund), the foreign policy of Turkey as an emerging power (funded by the FCDO as part of the Global Fragmentation of Peacemaking and Peacebuilding PeaceRep project) and transnational dynamics and the production of insecurity in the MENA region (funded by the FCDO). I also teach politics and conflict at the MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe, and the MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. I also keep on working with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute and Lund University on social/urban change and human rights projects.
My monograph Turkish Politics and ‘The People’: Mass Mobilisation and Populism came out in September 2022. The book develops a discursive approach bringing together discourse and action, uses and integrates modes of analysis from a diverse body of scholarship such as sociology, cultural and psychosocial studies, political science and theory into a genealogical narrative that stresses the role of societal, political, and corporeal memory in the construction of the ‘popular’. It elucidates the transformations of the people during one hundred years of republican politics and gauges the ramifications of the populist turn in Turkey’s political trajectories and situates Turkey’s experience with populism in broader literatures by showing its unique aspects as well as commonalities with other cases all around the world.
I have also been a visiting professor on conflict analysis and on nationalism and human rights at the University of Siena in Italy (MA in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action), on nationalism and multiculturalism at Tartu University in Estonia and a visiting lecturer on Southeastern European Studies at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey.
My research focuses on
- the politics of populism (including Islamist and neo-populist far-right movements)
- nationalism, inter-ethnic relations and ethnic conflict in southeastern Europe but also in a comparative context
- conflict and polarization
- Muslim communities and identities in Europe
- transnational Muslim politics and networks
My research and teaching interests extend geographically from southeastern Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean including Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, Iran, and the MENA region.
I am a member of the advisory board of Transconflict, a conflict transformation NGO, and have been chair of the Association for the Study of South Europe and the Balkans, a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Area Studies, Mediterranean Politics and the Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, and editor of the Journal of Contemporary European Studies.
Between 2012 and 2018, I have been co-editor of the Islam and Nationalism book series for Palgrave Macmillan and, in 2019, I founded #RethinkingPopulism in collaboration with openDemocracy, and have been its lead editor since then.
* The Rolling Stones (which I am not very fond of) were the last international rock band that performed in Greece for over a decade just a few days before the colonels’ tanks took to the streets in April 1967 (I was just a toddler then). It was not until March 1980 when The Police (the band) reintroduced Athens into the international gig map (and, sadly, I have no photographs from their unforgettable performance).