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A Poetics of Political Economy in Egypt

Kristin Koptiuch
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    A Poetics of Political Economy in Egypt
    Book Description:

    Original in perspective, innovative in approach, this book investigates the changing relationship between Egypt’s urban artisanry and the larger socio-historical transformations of the Egyptian economy. Focusing on two key historical periods in the early and late twentieth century, Kristin Koptiuch examines the political and economic conditions that affected the role of the artisan in Egypt over time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8623-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Retrospective: U.S. “Expertise” and Ethnographic Egypt
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1980, according to a reported estimate, there were 1,116 U.S. “experts” working in Egypt on U.S. AID development projects.¹ This figure can be expanded to include Egyptian scholars and scientists who supplemented meager salaries (from $100 to $150 per month) by cooperating with AID-sponsored projects,² American academics on the faculty of the American University in Cairo, and the substantial number of pre- and postdoctoral scholars (aspiring, junior, and senior Middle East “area specialists”) whose research was being sponsored by such U.S. “scholarly” funding institutes as the Fulbright Foundation, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the American Council of Learned...

  5. Chapter 1 Poetics and Political Economy
    (pp. 11-32)

    Picture, if you will, a mud-brick potter’s workshop in 1980 Cairo. An Egyptian potter sits turning pot after pot upon his wheel. His young apprentice transfers completed pots to a drying area already crowded with dozens of identical vessels and supplies his master with fresh Nile clay prepared in pits dug into the ground outside. A wristwatch dangles at eye level immediately before the potter, marking the frenetic pace of piecework. Suspended from the thatched palm fronds of the workshop roof by a sturdy piece of wire, this icon of the modern world is the single, almost startling reminder that...

  6. Chapter 2 Ethnographic Inscriptions
    (pp. 33-60)

    As the bus to Misr al-Qadimah (Old Cairo) pulls into the openair terminal on Midan al-Tahrir (Independence Square, later renamed Sadat Square), the waiting crowd becomes attentive and alive with commotion as everyone gathers up their baskets, satchels, and children, to jostle their way toward the open doors and prepare for the inevitable mad crush of entry. Even before the bus comes to a halt, its occupants are launching themselves out the doorways in practiced, flying leaps, the men’s flowing gallabiyas hoisted up to avoid entanglement, in an effort to escape the ensuing head-on scrimmage between simultaneously entering and exiting...

  7. Chapter 3 From Dissolution to Preservation: Egyptian Artisanry in the Early Twentieth Century
    (pp. 61-90)

    My own ethnographic fieldwork focused on the pottery industry, a craft that long preceded Egypt’s integration into the capitalist world market and that continues to enjoy a viable, though reduced, market for its utilitarian water jars and other assorted clay pots. Pottery is a prime artifact of the past, our sole text for many extinct cultures. It may be one of the first items to approach commodity status in prehistory and one of the first artisanal specializations to develop following sedentarization and agricultural production. Its status at one time was certainly anything but petty.

    But, in the scope of a...

  8. Chapter 4 Closing in on Crisis: The Informal Sector since the 1970s
    (pp. 91-112)

    By the late 1970s, Egyptian petty commodity production had become a concern for both international development agency research and Egypt’s national reconstruction in a transnational field. These artisanal, small-scale industries and their skilled craftworkers were also made the butt of complaints in the press and among the popular classes in Egypt. In this chapter I examine the reemergence of petty commodity production as both an allegorical figure and an object of institutional policy in the discursive and social fields of often conflicting interests. This renewed concern can best be understood as the result of a disruption of the social reproduction...

  9. Chapter 5 From Preservation to Simulation: Paradox of Postmodernity
    (pp. 113-138)

    Chapter 3 sketched the moment of modernism in early-twentiethcentury Egypt when the relation between petty commodity production and the wider political economy shifted from dissolution to (paradoxical) preservation. These forms of production became integral to ensuring the social reproduction of modern capital accumulation in the periphery and in the metropole. As we saw in chapter 4, beginning in the mid-1970s, a global accumulation crisis, prompted by post–World War II national labor and antiimperial struggles around the world, brought back into the limelight this mode of reproduction that had served Egypt since the beginning of the century. Crisis was the...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 139-148)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 149-160)
  12. Index
    (pp. 161-168)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 169-169)