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Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity

Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 429
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    Rule of Experts
    Book Description:

    Can one explain the power of global capitalism without attributing to capital a logic and coherence it does not have? Can one account for the powers of techno-science in terms that do not merely reproduce its own understanding of the world?Rule of Expertsexamines these questions through a series of interrelated essays focused on Egypt in the twentieth century. These explore the way malaria, sugar cane, war, and nationalism interacted to produce the techno-politics of the modern Egyptian state; the forms of debt, discipline, and violence that founded the institution of private property; the methods of measurement, circulation, and exchange that produced the novel idea of a national "economy," yet made its accurate representation impossible; the stereotypes and plagiarisms that created the scholarly image of the Egyptian peasant; and the interaction of social logics, horticultural imperatives, powers of desire, and political forces that turned programs of economic reform in unanticipated directions. Mitchell is a widely known political theorist and one of the most innovative writers on the Middle East. He provides a rich examination of the forms of reason, power, and expertise that characterize contemporary politics. Together, these intellectually provocative essays will challenge a broad spectrum of readers to think harder, more critically, and more politically about history, power, and theory.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92825-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    We have entered the twenty-first century still divided by a way of thinking inherited from the nineteenth. Nineteenth-century Europe learned to understand the modern world as the outcome of history. People came to believe that the pattern of human affairs manifested neither the working of a divine will nor the self-regulating balance of a natural system, but the unfolding of an inner secular force. There were several ways of accounting for this inner dynamic, all of them referring to the increasing power of human reason to order social affairs. The movement of history could be ascribed to the growing technical...


    • 1 Can the Mosquito Speak?
      (pp. 19-53)

      In the summer of 1942 two forces invaded Egypt, and each provoked a decisive battle. Only one of the two was human, so only that one is remembered, although the casualties in the other battle were greater. On the northwest coast, Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps crossed the border from Libya and was halted on its march toward Cairo by the British Eighth Army at al-Alamein. Four months later the British counterattacked. After a two-week tank battle they routed the German and Italian forces, whom they outnumbered in men and tanks by more than two to one. Al-Alamein was the Allies’...

    • 2 Principles True in Every Country
      (pp. 54-79)

      In 1863 Ismaʿil Pasha, the Ottoman ruler in Cairo, gave one hundred acres of land to his coffee maker. He gave another hundred to his head barber. He had succeeded his uncle Saʿid as viceroy in January of that year, and within eighteen months he allocated to those around him more than sixty thousand acres of the Nile valley. The recipients were military officers and high officials, family members and household staff. In the same short period he also added more than fifty thousand acres to his own estates.¹

      To Europeans, actions like these expressed everything that was wrong with...

    • 3 The Character of Calculability
      (pp. 80-120)

      In 1903 the German sociologist Georg Simmel published an essay describing modern life as a world of unrelenting calculation. People had developed, he wrote, “a purely matter-of-fact attitude in the treatment of persons and things.” He attributed the new mentality to the growth of large cities, which encouraged the development of an impersonal, individualized rationality at the expense of the more deeply felt emotional ties of life in the countryside and small towns. A calculating mentality was connected with the concentration of commercial transactions in the large city, or what he called “money economy”: “The metropolis has always been the...


    • 4 The Invention and Reinvention of the Peasant
      (pp. 123-152)

      Among the figures in the scholarly imagining of the postcolonial world, “the peasant” is a strange kind of presence. With this abstraction a category of human being became a field of expertise, the subject of his own scholarly journals and the object of a distinct body of theory and description. “What are villagers in India, in Egypt, in Mexicoreally like?” the anthropologist George Foster asks, as he begins a brief history of the field. “For nearly fifty years anthropologists (by no means to the exclusion of others) have searched for answers [to this question] . . . living with...

    • 5 Nobody Listens to a Poor Man
      (pp. 153-178)

      The discussion of rural politics and violence has always been strangely one-sided. Resistance and rebellion in the countryside have been the object of a long series of studies. But it seems to be a convention of the literature that rural violence refers to the violence of the poor and the powerless. The phrase is not usually taken to mean violence used against these groups. Although the latter may be discussed in explaining the context of rebellions or the reactions they provoke, it is seldom itself the focus of analysis.¹

      Part of the reason for this one-sidedness is that any attempt...

    • 6 Heritage and Violence
      (pp. 179-206)

      One of the odd things about the arrival of the era of the modern nationstate was that for a state to prove that it was modern, it helped if it could also prove that it was ancient. A nation that wanted to show that it was uptodate and deserved a place among the company of modern states needed, among other things, to produce a past. This past was not just a piece of symbolic equipment, like a flag or an anthem, with which to organize political allegiance and demonstrate a distinct identity. As many recent studies of nationalism point out,...


    • 7 The Object of Development
      (pp. 209-243)

      Open almost any study of Egypt produced by an American or international development agency and you are likely to find it starting with the same simple image. The question of Egypt’s economic development is almost invariably introduced as a problem of geography versus demography, pictured by describing the narrow valley of the Nile River, surrounded by desert, crowded with rapidly multiplying millions of inhabitants.

      A 1980 World Bank report on Egypt provides a typical example. “The geographical and demographic characteristics of Egypt delineate its basic economic problem,” the report begins.

      Although the country contains about 386,000 square miles, . ....

    • 8 The Market’s Place
      (pp. 244-271)

      The dominant theme in the description of the rural Third World at the close of the twentieth century remains the story of its capitalist transformation. The theme was exemplified in rural Egypt, where the reform and removal of state controls through the program known as structural adjustment was intended to turn the land and its produce into market commodities and remake the countryside for the twenty-first century as a fully capitalist economy. There are several ways to critique this story of capitalism’s advance. In the case of Egypt one can question how seriously some of the market reforms were applied,...

    • 9 Dreamland
      (pp. 272-304)

      During the second half of the twentieth century, economics established its claim to be the true political science. The idea of “the economy” provided a mode of seeing and a way of organizing the world that could diagnose a country’s fundamental condition, frame the terms of its public debate, picture its collective growth or decline, and propose remedies for its improvement, all in terms of what seemed a legible series of measurements, goals, and comparisons. In the closing decade of the century, after the collapse of state socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the authority of economic science...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 305-380)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 381-402)
  12. Index
    (pp. 403-413)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 414-414)