Tekay Liu, Cihan

Kaçak electricity: negotiating rights and privileges in the Ottoman Empire during the imperialist era

What are the political and economic relationships between public utilities, companies, states and people that contemporary societies inherited from the age of imperialism, when new energy infrastructures and technologies started spreading across the world? Through a historical-anthropological exploration of kaçak (informal/illicit/smuggled) electricity use and exchange during the late Ottoman Empire, this article analyzes how the relationships between companies, state and consumers were negotiated at the outset of electrification and how the moral economic discourses established in this era continues to influence the current nexus. By examining the terms of formal and informal access to electricity in the Ottoman Empire, first as a privilege for the few and then as a public good, I show how people living in the periphery during capitalist markets’ expansion to the Ottoman Empire related to electricity as a new commodity. Through examining kaçak use and exchange in the process of Ottoman electrification, I argue that the question of kaçak is a moral economic discourse on who is a citizen worthy or deserving of access to public utilities and infrastructure, extending to the relationship between economic privileges and political rights that is also at the center of the current global debates about neoliberalism and privatization.

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