“Raise your voice!” and “Speak up!” are familiar refrains that assume, all too easily, that gaining voice will lead to empowerment, healing, and inclusion for marginalized subjects. Marlene Schäfers’s Voices That Matter: Kurdish Women at the Limits of Representation in Contemporary Turkey (U Chicago Press, 2022) reveals where such assumptions fall short, demonstrating that “raising one’s voice” is no straightforward path to emancipation but fraught with anxieties, dilemmas, and contradictions. In its attention to the voice as form, this book examines not only what voices say but also how they do so, focusing on Kurdish contexts where oral genres have a long, rich legacy. Examining the social labor that voices carry out as they sound, speak, and resonate, Schäfers shows that where new vocal practices arise, they produce new selves and practices of social relations. In Turkey, recent decades have seen Kurdish voices gain increasing moral and political value as metaphors of representation and resistance. Women’s voices, in particular, are understood as potent means to withstand patriarchal restrictions and political oppression. By ethnographically tracing the transformations in how Kurdish women relate to and employ their voices as a result of these shifts, Schäfers illustrates how contemporary politics foster not only new hopes and desires but also create novel vulnerabilities as they valorize, elicit, and discipline voice in the name of empowerment and liberation.

Marlene Schäfers is assistant professor in cultural anthropology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. You may find some of the songs mentioned in the book and the episode here.

Armanc Yildiz is a doctoral candidate in Social Anthropology with a secondary field in Studies in Women, Gender and Sexuality at Harvard University. He is also the founder of Academics Write, where he supports scholars in their writing projects as a writing coach and developmental editor.

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