This dissertation examines the processes of socio-environmental change in Turkey’s Gediz Delta—an internationally protected coastal wetland, a traditionally agricultural area, and increasingly an urban development hotspot. Its theoretical insights are drawn from environmental sociology, urban political ecology as well as the studies on the neoliberalization of nature and environmental gentrification. It aims to contribute to the critical understanding of how nature is produced through historically varied and entangled socio-ecological processes. The dissertation explores how social-environmental imaginaries regarding a landscape are produced, contested, and expressed in concrete projects; how social actors interpret, navigate, and participate in socio-environmental transformations; and how conservation policies contribute to a particular form of urbanization in the urban-rural interface. Utilizing the methodological strategies of “incorporated comparison” (McMichael, 1990) and the “extended case method” (Burawoy, 1998), and based on a contextual analysis of texts, ethnographic data, and semi-structured interviews, I discuss the making of delta socionatures in relation to broader historical processes and within the context of the interplay of local and global developments since the 1860s. I particularly focus on the current conjuncture of the neoliberalization of the economy and socio-ecological relations in the post-1980 period. This conjuncture is experienced in the delta through the application of market-oriented wetland conservation policies, the mushrooming of gated communities, and the emergence of a novel peri-urbanity. I introduce and employ the concept of “consurbia” to refer to a peri-urban area which, although demonstrating a heterogonous co-existence of rural, urban, and natural ecosystems, is centred on conservation zones. Demonstrating the switch from a strict preservation model to a market-friendly one in the 2000s, I argue that conservation policies have become the dominant mode of production of space and the driver of urban developments in the delta, including luxury houses, recreational areas, and emerging socio-ecological relationships that privilege the preferences of new-comers at the expense of traditional relationships and practices. I call this process “conservation-led gentrification,” a form of environmental gentrification which describes a social and physical “upgrading” process in line with neoliberal conservation policies. My analysis demonstrates the centrality of socionature-making for capital accumulation processes and urban development models.
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Thesis advisor: Atasoy, Yildiz
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