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Cosmopolitan Dreams, Local Realities in Egypt

May 3, 2012

Schielke, a professor at Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, collects ten photos that capture the spatial and material aspects of cosmopolitan longing in modern Cairo.

Working class men with cosmopolitan aspirations in the barbaershop of the village of Nazlat al-Rayyis, near Alexandria. First of ten images in Samuli Schielke’s photo essay in City & Society.

In Chapter Two of Connected in Cairo I write about two High School aged boys attending two very different kinds of private educational establishments, each living in their own social worlds and defined spaces, with their own relations toward modernity.

Subsequently I describe two young school friends with aspirations toward the cosmopolitan modernity they see in Arabic children’s magazines, but whose lives are beginning to separate as a result of family incomes, educational and leisure practices, and family uses of technologies.

As the book progresses, I follow the wealthy kids, the ones whose families have the means–economic and social–to pursue their cosmopolitan aspirations, and look at the challenges to identity and cultural practice posed by these choices.

But what of these others? What of the youths with aspirations toward cosmopolitanism and global modernity whose incomes do not fit them to pursue these futures in the same ways?

These are the subject of a photo essay by Samuli Schielke in the latest issue of the anthropology journal City and Society entitled “Surfaces of Longing. Cosmopolitan Aspiration and Frustration in Egypt.

Schielke writes:

One of the most ambiguous outcomes of globalization has been the emergence of a large class of people who subscribe to global trends in religion, consumerism, nationalism, sports and popular culture, without having access to the mobility nor the symbolic capital that are associated with cosmopolitanism. This sense of aspiration is far from ephemeral. It is material, it has shape, surface, and form. This photo essay attempts to connect this sensual presence of images, and materials with the sense of longing and discontent involved in looking out to the world from the vantage point of underprivileged social milieus in Egypt.

Schielke, a research fellow at Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, collects ten photos that capture the spatial and material aspects of cosmopolitan longing in modern Cairo, and offers interesting, readable contextualizations of each.

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