Theses Doctoral

Understanding Patrimonial Resilience: Lessons from the Ottoman Empire

Kobas, Tolga

Once declared as a habitual relic of ‘the Third World’ countries, patrimonial regimes have re-emerged on a global scale. Even in the fully bureaucratized states, patrimonial relations made a convincing comeback. How did patrimonialism, which used to be condemned as an artifact from a distant past, prove to be so tenacious, even resurgent in the current global political economy? How does modern capitalism, which emerges painfully out of the crucible of patrimonial states and empires, become, once again, a patrimonial formation? What makes patrimonial-type regimes resilient?
In pursuit of this question, the dissertation analyzes the historical-social conditions of possibility for the longevity and resilience of the Ottoman Empire –a patrimonial and bureaucratic empire that ruled a vastly diverse population of people spread over three continents and did so with relative peace and stability. How did the Ottomans keep their patriarchal core and its patrimonial organization intact for six centuries? The research finds three elements that contributed to the maintenance of the empire’s patrimonial formation: adab, an Islamic tradition of professionalism, good manners, and moral propriety; a patrimonial status elite (devşirme) composed of men separated from their non-Muslim parents at childhood and carefully cultivated as Ottoman Sunni Muslims and employed in various capacities for state service; and third, a specialized apparatus of the patriarchal state, the imperial palace schools formed as a network around the main academy at the Topkapi Palace, the Enderûn-ı Hümâyûn.
The dissertation focuses on the life, curricula, and pedagogy at the Enderûn campus. As part of the imperial academy’s courtly habitus the Islamic tradition of adab was central to the students’ upbringing and cultivation. How did this historically unique combination of (tradition, status, and apparatus) contribute to the Ottoman Empire’s structural stability and organizational endurance?

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Eyal, Gil
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 15, 2019