Skip to content

Power, Agency & Resistance In Egypt (And Elsewhere)

July 27, 2014
protest

There’s nothing small or underground about these forms of resistance. But they still raise important questions about power and agency.

Resistance is everywhere these days, and it begs analysis, especially in thinking about issues of power and agency.

Nowhere is this more true than in Egypt, where protesters have exerted considerable agency in forcing changes, yet somehow they are unable to exert strong agency over the ultimate outcomes.

In a now famous article, Lila Abu-Lughod challenged the social scientific community on the concept of resistance.

what one finds now is a concern with unlikely forms of resistance, subversions rather than large-scale collective insurrections, small or local resistances not tied to the overthrow of systems or even to ideologies of emancipation. Scholars seem to be trying to rescue for the record and to restore to our respect such previously devalued or neglected forms of resistance.

The trend to which Abu-Lughod was responding was inspired by James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (1985). Scott argued that peasants oppressed didn’t buy into the hegemonic cultural systems that justified their oppression–they just didn’t want to get themselves killed going up against heavily armed security forces of the state. Rather, he said, they engaged in everyday forms of resistance: refusing to marry their daughters to the sons of collaborators, work slowdowns, etc. Rather than directly critiquing this trend, Abu-Lughod asks three questions:

  1. What is the relationship between scholarship and theorizing and the world-historical moment in which it occurs?
  2. What is the ideological underpinning of scholarship that claims to bring to light such hidden acts of resistance and make them visible?
  3. What are the implications of studies of resistance for theories of power?

All of the questions are addressed–if not answered–by the articles in a recent special issue of the journal History & Anthropology entitled “Rethinking Resistance in the 21st Century.”

Today, of course, we are once again in an era of large-scale resistance. The revolts and protests in the Arab world, the protests in Spain, Greece, and Ireland, the Occupy Movement are all acts of resistance quite different from both the peasant wars of the 1960s and 1970s, and the subaltern resistances tracked by scholars in the 1990s and 2000s.

But this makes Abu-Lughod’s questions more relevant rather than less.

One of the articles, “Upending Infrastructure: Tamarod, Resistance, and Agency after the January 25th Revolution in Egypt” by Julia Elyachar, focuses on the efforts of the Tamarod movement to organize protests against President Morsi, which led to the military’s removal of Morsi and the eventual election of General as-Sisi.

She begins with the classic structure/agency problem in social theory and asks: “What about infrastructure/agency?”

Read more…

Explaining Why The Journalists Were Put Down in Egypt

July 9, 2014
Did Secretary Kerry fail to use US capital with Egypt in trying to free the Al-Jazeera journalists? Or is there very little capital to spend?

Did Secretary Kerry fail to use US capital with Egypt in trying to free the Al-Jazeera journalists? Or, as Andrea Teti argues, was there no capital to spend?

I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about the sentences handed down the other day against the Al-Jazeera journalists.

Most people seem to think that the absurdity of the sentences is a travesty of justice, and that Egypt should be responding to international outrage.

Others think that the US is squandering its influence, that the fact that Kerry walked hopefully out of a meeting with al-Sisi only to have the sentences handed down the next day, shows that

Now, I can just send people to read an essay by my friend Andrea Teti, director of the University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Global Security and Governance and senior fellow at the European Centre for International Affairs, whom I met in Oxford (UK) a couple years back.

Andrea points out

Read more…

Japanese Popular Culture In Egypt

July 6, 2014

BannerOne of the main things that led to the research that became Connected in Cairo was an interest in the different ways Japanese popular culture–especially, but not limited to Pokémon–was localized differently in Egypt and the US.

There’s a chapter on Pokémon in Connected in Cairo, and Pokémon appears as an analytical problem in the first and last chapters of my first book. I’ve written about Pokemon in Egypt as part of children’s worlds of consumption, and as a case study for understanding indexicality in media practices.

So, inevitably, there had to be a course. I taught  an anthropology class here at Miami University entitled “Pokémon: Global and Local Cultures” this summer. Here’s the course description:

This course is about global cultural flows. Using as our chief case study the movement of Japanese cultural materials—from Godzilla to Pokémon to sushi—across cultural borders, we will look at the movement of cultural forms through global contexts shaped by transportation systems, new information technologies, and the global capitalist economy. Students will learn to draw on concepts and methods from ethnography, practice theory and semiotics to explore how texts, games, toys, styles and other cultural forms are produced, circulated, appropriated, transformed and localized.

Please note: this was not a course on Japanese popular culture per se, about which I cannot teach authoritatively, but a course on global cultural flows, world systems and localization, with most of the case studies being drawn from Japanese popular culture.

Several of the lessons either focus on, or at least touch on, Japanese popular culture in the Middle East, especially Egypt, so I thought I’d share those lessons here:

Lesson One:

Cultural FlowsCulture is not static; it moves rapidly through the world, carried by human agents, communications and information media, and systems of exchange. As people encounter new cultural representations, practices and artifacts, they appropriate many of them, transform them, and adapt them for local use, integrating them into their local cultural repertoire.

http://prezi.com/nis9p0nziq5x/culture-flows/?html5=0

Lesson Three: Globalization

Read more…

“Happy” in Iraq

July 4, 2014

Here’s a brief addendum to my blog post on the “Pharrel Williams index” in the Middle East. I just learned about this new Happy video by Syrian refugees at Darasakran refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq.

Paranoia and Puppets in Post-Morsi Egypt

July 4, 2014
How do supporters of the ousted President Mohammed Morsi carry on their sinister conspiracy to undermine the Egyptian nation? Could it be through secret messages encoded in advertisements starring a yarn-haired puppet? Probably not--but how can we know for  sure...?

How do supporters of the ousted President Mohammed Morsi carry on their sinister conspiracy to undermine the Egyptian nation? Could it be through secret messages encoded in advertisements starring a yarn-haired puppet? Probably not–but how can we know for sure…?

I have blogged before about conspiracy theories in Egypt, but it looks as if I’ll be doing so more and more since conspiracy theories–particularly those about the Muslim Brotherhood and its foreign allies–have increasingly gone mainstream in Egypt.

One of the most interesting is the weird investigation at the beginning of this year into

Abla Fahita is a puppet character (who has her own Facebook page) who has appeared regularly on television over the past several years, primarily on YouTube but also on Egyptian television. She and her daughter Karkura interact with humans and other muppet-like characters in humor ranging from innocuous to satirical.

She also appears in advertisements. And therein lies a tale.

Read more…

Imagining the Egyptian Revolution

June 11, 2014
Three articles in the journal Postcolonial Studies ponder the revolutionary imagination. Photo Credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي via Compfight cc

Three articles in the journal Postcolonial Studies ponder the revolutionary imagination. Photo Credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي via Compfight cc

The latest issue of the interdisciplinary journal Postcolonial Studies features a special issue on “Imagining the Revolution”

Among articles on the revolutionary imagination China, and the American and British Occupy movements, are three articles on the revolution in Egypt.

The first article, “The utopian and dystopian functions of Tahrir Square” by May Telmissany, compares and contrasts two occupations of Tahrir, that of the original 18 days, and that of the one year anniversary.

The author argues that both the secular revolutionary project and the subsequent Islamist revolutionary project bore the seeds of their own subsequent failures, and these can be seen in the performances of the respective occupations of Tahrir Square.

Read more…

How Is The Egyptian Revolution Framed In The Iranian Press?

June 10, 2014
Source: Carnegie Endowment for World Peace.

Source: Carnegie Endowment for World Peace.

I am always interested in South-South intercultural relations–we read so little about them.

So it was with great pleasure I encountered this recent article by Rusi Jaspal of De Montfort University in the UK.

Analyzing two popular Iranian newspapers (albeit in English language dailies), he demonstrates how the newspapers frame the revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia (which Iran has officially supported) as:

  1. part of an Islamic awakening, and
  2. consistent with the principles of the Iranian revolution

Read more…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 466 other followers

%d bloggers like this: