(the text below is part of the article ‘Transnational Spaces’ published in Volume issue #3)
Since the early 1990s, the section of Istanbul called Laleli has been a center of transnational textile trade between countries of the former Eastern Block and Turkey. At the beginning of the 1990s, with the opening of the borders, cheaply produced textile goods produced in Turkey drew Russian traders – predominantly women – to Istanbul in droves. Buying as many pieces as each could individually carry in a suitcase, the traders brought the goods back to Moscow for resale. This practice not only responded to a lack of consumer goods in Russia at the beginning of the 1990s, but it also contributed to a massive upturn in the Turkish economy. What was connoted at the outset by the term, ‘Natasha trade’, associated with prostitution, has in the meantime become professionalized. Hotels now organize shop tours for Russian businesswomen, which take place every Sunday through Thursday in order that the wares can be brought to the Moscow market on Saturday for resale, if they are not headed for regular shops. Most of the sellers in Laleli now speak Russian well, and the range of goods accommodates the tastes and preferences of the Russian businesswomen. The advertising is bilingual and payment in dollars. The sellers themselves come mainly from rural regions in Turkey – most with Kurdish background – or from Bulgaria, Bosnia or Macedonia. They are themselves migrants who wanted to build an existence for themselves in the metropolis.
The Istanbul textile trade is an illustrative example of ‘Reinventing the Market’ on a transnational level. It is fixed within a geography incorporating streams of traders, the flow of goods, and markets. Yet, it expands out over national boundaries. Laleli thus functions as a hub for transnational networks. The physical space of this urban district, a historical peninsula, has little in common with the social spaces belonging to the diverse participants, which reach into far-off Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. The Kolleg investigated the chains and networks of traders and goods, and examined the spatial impact on the city quarter. Furthermore, it sought to observe patterns of social interaction that developed in the absence of formal norms and sanctions. Interestingly, these interconnecting networks, moving beyond territorial borders, reveal patterns based on cooperation and social integration stemming from family relationships: particularly, relationships of trust and intimacy. The Bauhaus Kolleg thus explored how this district is constructed as a transnational space – a new conception of locality – through its distinct social machinery and spatial structures. The focus of attention in this inquiry was the question: Which urban models arise from the transnational hybridization of people and goods?