Altuğ Akın & Burak Doğu (*)
What does neighborhood mean in terms of communication? Or, Reviewing İzmir based on neighborhood
Communication (in Turkish iletişim) is neither as simple as it seems nor as clear as it’s thought to be. It appears to be made up of the word ‘ilet-i’ (to convey-message), and an appendix that makes it reciprocal (iş-im); it’s this simple! Of course, almost nothing is only what it seems to be and the issue between message and reciprocity is quite complicated. Allow us to explain…
To consider the word communication entails taking a journey that starts from the messages and extends towards people, passing through spaces, and traveling towards that which is communal. We will give you a clue here and say upfront that this space can be envisaged as a neighborhood.
So, our keywords are message, people, space/neighborhood, and the communal.
When talking about keywords, we think about Raymond Williams (Who are we? Communication scholars, professors? We’ll get back to this). With his work entitled Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Williams, a Welsh scholar, novelist, and owner of many other titles, has widened our perspectives and opened up our minds about many of the terms we’ve been pondering over. As you may likely have guessed, one of these terms is communication.
Williams asserts that the English word communication has a very narrow meaning during the time his book was written in the 70s: it is the reciprocal transmission of messages from particular actor(s) to others. This meaning has been identified with mass communication tools and the media. Williams points out that despite this, when we look at the word’s origins, there is something else in its roots: the Latin word communis. In English, the word common means mutual, shared. The word communicate derives from making something common and shared, this is its essence. Transportation and infrastructure as secondary meanings of the word communication have been established much later (during the Industrial Revolution), to express the back and forth transmission of things between two distant points. In Williams’ opinion, although it hasn’t lost its meaning completely, this situation has caused the word to drift quite far from its original meaning to express something that only means back and forth errand running. This doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, reading the word communication based on its essential meaning of sharing has characterized the whole of Williams’ academic and political efforts.
Of course, communication can’t just be about messages because there are also people. Furthermore, there are people that can establish commonalities in the face of all setbacks. There aren’t only messages that travel back and forth; there are collectives, there is meaning, there is space. It can even be claimed that there is no space in the communication of things’ transportation and that messages travel along distances; while the communication of collectives is achieved thanks to the space and exists within that space. To put it another way, words disappear but conversations are permanent. In time, but more so in space.
It must be acknowledged that just like communication, space is also a complicated term. But for now, let’s just take “space” to mean neighborhood and trace the communication of collectives in the neighborhood: let’s take a picture of what already exists and seek out what could be possible in the particular context of Izmir.
To be able to pin down what exists and what could be, let’s first start with the past, face it, and make peace with it:
“Where are the neighborhoods and their dwellers of the past? The chairs put out on stoops, the open-air cinemas…” It’s true that these things don’t exist anymore in Alaybey, Karantina, Altındağ, Bayramyeri, Harmandalı, and in fact, all of Izmir. It is also true that neighborhoods and their nature of communication have changed and that the lives they host are not the same as they used to be. The chairs that were put out on stoops belong to the past and people seem to be conversing less, which is also true. And yes, nostalgia can sometimes be a safe shelter. But yesterday is in the past and we need to look towards other things.
When we consider Izmir from this perspective, what we see are neighborhood dwellers that converse with each other despite everything. With each other and the whole universe.
There is a need for a small sidebar here: sociology has excessively shown that Izmir has gone through an extraordinary growth between the recent past and today. New neighborhoods have formed and are still forming; old neighborhoods have changed and are still changing. Living in this country has not become easier, and Izmir has received her fair share, and she still does.
The people of Izmir have insisted on having conversations, they have gone out to Kordon, Güzelyalı, Kale, Bostanlı, Homeros, and Aşık Veysel Park, and have gotten immersed in conversations for hours, despite everything.
Just when we were thinking, “the traces of what’s possible lies in what exists'' and brooding over this writing, the Izmir earthquake happened, and our opinion was put to test: the Aşık Veysel Park became the heart of post-earthquake solidarity. It’s true that a social mobilization was ignited around this solidarity, but it was the neighborhood dwellers in essence that protected each other. Through the earthquake, Izmir became one, it became communal.
This is a statement on the past and the potential future of the neighborhood as communication has escaped sealed conference rooms, classrooms, study rooms, or semi-open cafes, bars, restaurants, and all such cultural spaces and spread towards inclusive public spaces like streets, parks, and squares, just like it happened during the Gezi and the succeeding forums held at the Gündoğdu Square, Bostanlı Fine Arts Park and Büyük Park. Essentially, what makes the communication of collectives possible is solidarity, a status which also adds a mutual character to communication.
This can’t go without mentioning. We can still see that the collectives can grow close in other spaces where communication is established (indirectly in this case), through platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Let’s not forget that there is also an Izmir in these platforms along with other neighborhoods and people in the universe. And let’s not forget that the networks among collectives continue to evolve, just like our communication practices.
Before we end this, let’s clarify who we are: We are two people living in the neighborhoods of Izmir, whosee all kinds of communication as an instrument of communality, who are fond of Williams, conversing, and Izmir, and who elaborate on urban issues and communication by happenstance.
Hope to have you with us.
(*) Assoc. Prof. Dr., Izmir University of Economics Department of New Media and Communication