Onur Günay

Lecturer in Anthropology
Director of Undergraduate Studies
314 Aaron Burr Hall
Office Hours
Wednesday: 2:00 pm-3:00 pm
Thursday: 2:00 pm-3:00 pm

Political and Medical Anthropology, Social and Critical Theory, Ethnographic Filmmaking, History of Anthropological Theory, Violence, Ethnic Conflict and Racialization, Displacement and Memory, Drug Use and Rehabilitation, Emergent Masculinities, Islam and the Middle East

Short Bio

Onur Günay is an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, specializing in political and medical anthropology, social and critical theory, and Middle Eastern studies. Currently, he is a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University.

Günay’s book manuscript explores the entangled logics of ethno-racial violence, statecraft, and religious governance at the intersections of two wars in contemporary Turkey: the long-standing “War on Terror” against the Kurdish insurgency, and a more recent war on drugs. He shows how these conflicts mark Kurdish bodies as permanent security threats as potential criminals, addicts, or terrorists and targets of political violence. His ethnographic research also documents the work of grassroots religious movements in Istanbul attempting to reform “violent masculinities” as part of state’s war on drugs, analyzing racial and gendered technologies deployed in attempts to craft ideal Muslim-Turkish subjects out of a marginalized population.

The manuscript is based on thirty months of ethnographic fieldwork carried out with Kurdish migrant workers in labor markets, hiring hubs, Sufi lodges of prayer and drug rehabilitation, coffeehouses, and sites of leisure and desire, and a decade of anthropological engagement in Istanbul and the Kurdish region of Turkey. His ethnographic fieldwork between 2013 and 2016 took place in years of a fragile peace process and then renewed conflict.

Günay’s work has appeared in American Anthropologist, Dialectical Anthropology, New Perspectives on Turkey, and Toplum ve Kuram (Theory and Society), and online at Jadaliyya, Somatosphere, Özgür Gündem, Evrensel, T24, and Bianet. He holds a PhD (2017) and an MA (2013) in Anthropology from Princeton University, and an MA in Sociology from Boğaziçi University. In 2017-2018, he was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University Mahindra Humanities Center. 

Günay’s work as a filmmaker is integral to his work as anthropologist and storyteller. His last documentary, Garod (Longing [Eng] / Hasret [TUR]), made with ethnomusicologist Burcu Yıldız, portrays the remaking of a musical tradition in the shadow of genocidal loss through the story of a trip taken by two Armenian-American musicians, Onnik Dinkjian and Ara Dinkjian, to their family’s town of origin, Diyarbakır. Garod was one of the very few films selected for screening in the 2015 Armenian Genocide centenary commemorations organized in Turkey, Armenia, Germany, France, Canada, and the United States, owing to its strong emphasis on hope, resilience, and the life-making capacities of people in the wake of violent catastrophe. 

Günay has taught large, introductory freshmen courses, as well as undergraduate and graduate seminars at Princeton and Harvard. His teaching supports critical thinking, research-oriented learning, multimodal knowledge-production, and community outreach. He practices a democratic and dialogical approach to teaching that supports the development of students’ social sensibilities and conceptual abilities.

Locating ethnography’s radical political potential at its center, Günay’s research and teaching methodologies cross disciplines and genres among social sciences, humanities and visual arts. He works and teaches with heterodox theoretical frameworks such as decolonial, feminist, non-Western and indigenous approaches in conversation with canonical works in anthropology, social theory, and critical theory.

Recent Publications:

Günay, Onur. 2019. “In War and Peace: Shifting Narratives of Violence in Kurdish Istanbul.” American Anthropologist 121(3): 554-67.

Günay, Onur and Erdem Yörük. 2019. “Governing Ethnic Unrest: Political Islam and the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey.” New Perspectives on Turkey, no. 61: 9–43.

Günay, Onur. 2014. “Geçmişin İşlenmesi Ne Demektir? (“The Meaning of Working Through the Past”), Toplum ve Kuram (Theory and Society) (9): 13-30. 

Günay, Onur. 2013. “Toward a Critique of Non-Violence.” Dialectical Anthropology 37(1):171-182.