Breadwinner Soldiers: Gender, Welfare, and Sovereignty in the Ottoman First World War
Dannies, Kate Curran
Tucker, Judith E
During the First World War, approximately three million Ottoman men served in the military, amounting to about 12% of the total population of the Empire in 1914. Many conscripts were in their prime breadwinning years with families financially dependent on them. The Ottoman state faced a dilemma: how to mobilize breadwinners while preserving the male breadwinner-led family? This dissertation is a study of the Ottoman state policies that aimed to preserve the male breadwinner-led family during World War I, and how the practical failures of these policies impacted the wartime experiences of Ottomans, and state’s quest for sovereignty during World War I. Using as a lens the Muinsiz Aile Maaşı (The Pension for Families of Breadwinners, or MAM), I show that welfare policies were not limited in their significance to homefront subsistence, but must instead be understood as military policies aimed at protecting the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire. The MAM was the state’s attempt to uphold existing gendered social and economic relations without a key element of this structure: men. Through the MAM, the Ottoman state leveraged existing gendered institutional structures in service of its war aims, especially in areas of the Empire where the infrastructure and resources of the central state fell short. In these peripheral regions, central state welfare policy gave way to semi-state charity, an arrangement that allowed the state to leverage existing networks and take advantage of the interest in preserving the male breadwinner-led family shared by regional bureaucrats, local elites, and everyday Ottomans. The persistence of this shared ideal led to the retrenchment of the male breadwinner-led family during the First World War, at a time when the existence of this socioeconomic structure was at its most precarious. Although the survival of this norm into the foundations of the modern Middle East is equated with the persistence of patriarchy, a closer look at the gender dynamics of the First World War allows for the historicization of the ways that these norms were produced and institutionalized in conversation with late Ottoman modernization and total war.
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