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Anthropology of Egypt: Stuff I Missed at the Anthropology Meetings

November 22, 2012

Part of the on-line program of the American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco, Nov 14-18, 2012.

So many papers, so little time

I spent Thursday through Saturday (Nov. 15-17) in rainy San Francisco at the American Anthropological Association meetings. I am trying to concentrate on my news media and globalization in India work, and to network with some other chairs of anthropology departments to whom I could turn for advice as I take up that position, so I could not attend as many panels and papers as I would have liked.

There were a record number of papers and participants, so I missed lots of really good papers, including a lot of good stuff about the Egyptian Revolution.

I’m most bummed about missing a double length program on the art and aesthetics of the revolution, something I’ve blogged a lot about. It had an all star cast but unfortunately it was scheduled opposite first, my roundtable on conversations between journalists and anthropologists and then my Anthropology News editors breakfast–my last, after ten years of serving as a columnist.

The panel was entitled “Aesthetics, Politics, and Religion: The Role of (Performing) Arts in the Arab Uprisings.” It was organized by Karin van Nieuwkerk and Jessica Winegar, with van Nieuwkerk as chair, and Jessica and Ted Swedenburg as discussants.

The papers included:

  • “Aesthetics, Politics, and Religion: The Role of (Performing) Arts in the Arab Uprisings” by Karin van Nieuwkerk of Radboud University in the Netherlands, author of the classic A Trade Like Any Other (UTexas Press, 1995) and editor of Muslim Rap, Halal Soaps, and Revolutionary Theater: Artistic Developments in the Muslim World (UTexas Press, 2011), which I bought but haven’t had time to read yet.
  • “Can Poetry Change the World? Reading Amal Dunqul in 2011” by Samuli Schielke of the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin.
  • “In Praise of Insult: Poetic performance in the Egyptian Revolution” by Elliott Colla of Georgetown University.
  • “Off the Stage, Into the Square: Avant-Garde Performers in Revolutionary Egypt” by Sonali Pahwa of Northwestern University-Qatar.
  • “Music for All: Aesthetic Shifts in Secular Nationalist Pop Music in Egypt” by Dan Gilman of DePauw University. I got to meet Dan at the Middle East Section business meeting, where he turned out to be buddies with my new Miami colleague John Schaeffer. It took me a minute to realize that he was the guy who wrote the “martyr pop” article, but I got there eventually (the brain still works, it just keeps getting slower–not that I’ve ever been good with names).
  • “Breaking Free: The Power of Satire in the Arab Spring” by Abdelghani El Khairat of the University of Utrecht.

There were also papers on topics outside Egypt–one on the Amazigh movement in Morocco, one on poetry and protest in Yemen, one on Syrian dance (dabke), and two on Moroccan protest music.

Another potentially great panel I missed was “The Arab Spring: Political Subjectivities, Ideology, and the Future” organized by Mohammed B. F. Tabishat of the American University in Cairo. These papers included:

  1. “Arab Spring and Islamism: Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis In Egypt” by el-Sayed el-Aswad, now at United Arab Emirates University. El-Aswad is the author of a fascinating and often underrated book entitled Religion and Folk Cosmology: Scenarios of the Visible and Invisible in Rural Egypt (Praeger, 2002) and a new book Muslim Worldviews and Everyday Lives (Altamira, 2012) which I haven’t read yet (but hope to).
  2. “Islamists, Secularists and Freedom of Thought In the Post-Arab Spring North-Africa and Egypt” by Cedric Baylocq of the Centre Jacques Berque (CNRS), which I think is located in Rabat, Morocco.
  3. “‘We’re Not As Afraid Anymore’: Fear, Hope and Uncertainty Across Two Generations In Cairo” by Sara Lei Sparre of the University of Copenhagen.
  4. “‘Shahrazad, Tell Me a Story:’ the Egyptian Uprising In Films” by Mohammed B. F. Tabishat. I was very sorry to miss this, as I was hoping it would help me expand my post on movies about the Egyptian uprising.
“The Arab Uprisings: Decolonial Practices and States at the Border of Legitimacy” organized by Yasser Munif of nearby Emerson College was of less interest as the papers were not about Egypt. In addition to the Egyptian papers, there were papers on Morocco (by Charis Boutieri of King’s College, London), Syria (by Yasser Munif and Elena Yehia of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Lebanon (by Sami Hermez of the Universtiy of Pittsburgh, and Helena Nassif of the University of Westminster).

Sadly, I also missed the paper of my new colleague John Schaefer, who joined us this year after several years teaching at the American University in Cairo. His paper Wednesday was entitled “The Creation of Democratic Tahrir: Spaces of Inclusion,”  which sounds right up my alley.

There’s a lot of other interesting research on Egypt I missed, including:

  • “Humor, Skepticism and Political Action in Egypt” by Jessica Winegar (Northwestern University). I missed the paper but saw Jessica at the Middle East Section business meeting.
  • “Telling Tales Islamic: Televangelism, Sincerity and Storytelling in Egypt” by Yasmin Moll (New York University). Fortunately, Yasmin introduced herself to me at the Teaching the Arab Spring workshop, so I finally got to put a face to the name of one of the most interesting young anthropologists of Egypt.
  • “Creating Milk Kin Through Induced Lactation: New Kinship Ties to Reduce Social Risks of Adoption in Egypt” by Elizabeth Smith of the University of Vermont). I was introduced to Elizabeth (by Jessica, I think) at the Middle East Section business meeting. She told me she’d taught Connected In Cairo in one of her classes.
  • “Pushing the Margin: Women’s Labor Militancy and the Egyptian Revolt of January 25th” by Sherine Hafez. My biggest disappointment of the conference is that not only did I miss this paper but I missed seeing Sherine at the conference. I remember her very well from my days as graduate advisor at the American University in Cairo, enjoyed her book The Terms of Empowerment (AUC, 2003)and look forward to reading An Islam of Her Own (NYU Press, 2012)–and I desperately want to hear her trajectory from brilliant MA student (and teacher at the school I call the American School in Egypt in Connected in Cairo) to associate professor at the University of California-Riverside.
  • “Knowledge is Power: Building the New Egypt Through Islamic Literacy Activism” by Nermeen Mouftah (University of Toronto).
  • “Skyscapes of Abdeen: The Lifeworlds of Pigeon Fanciers in Cairo” by Nadia L. Dropkin (American University in Cairo).
  • “Learn and Earn Recycling School in the Garbage Neighborhood in Cairo” by Marwa Adel Abd El Fattah (American University in Cairo).
  • “Shofti: Metaphorical Registers, Linguistic Idioms, Classed Masculinities and Femininities and Globalization in Cairo’s Gay Scenes” by Mohammed Abbas Zaki (London School of Economics).

But that’s the anthropology meetings for you: so many people’s ideas and research, so little time!

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