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Without hope there is no life: class, affect, and meritocracy in middle class Cairo

Pettit, Harry (2017) Without hope there is no life: class, affect, and meritocracy in middle class Cairo. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.l2e5kg4jo70k

Abstract

This thesis examines the lives of a group of young middle-class Egyptian men who experience a mismatch between their aspirations and their chances of realising them. It analyses the historical emergence of an under-recognised ‘falling’ middle-class in contemporary Egypt, by comparing their relative fall with another middle-class population which has experienced a dramatic rise in wealth and status in the aftermath of neoliberal economic change. I contribute to literature examining the rise of the middle-classes across the Global South in recent years. First, I reveal the importance of historically-owned rural land, cultural privilege, the legal and political remnants of state socialism, and international migration in the socio-economic rise of an Egyptian middle-class. Second, I move away from a predominant focus on consumption, and instead highlight how educational markers, and ‘character’ differences enable the exercise of a new form of ‘open-minded’ middle-class distinction. But finally, I challenge existing literature by uncovering the emergence of an alternative, less-celebratory middle-class in the late-20th and early-21st century, one which has experienced relative decline as the public sector jobs, education, and subsidies they relied on to forge their middle-class lives have been stripped away. The rest of the thesis uses eleven months of ethnographic fieldwork stretched over two years to delve into the lives of a group of young men in this falling middle-class category as they attempt to make the transition from education to ‘aspired to’ employment. It first establishes the existence of a rupture in the Bourdieu-like congruence between their aspirations for a globalised middle-class life, and their ability to reach it. The three main empirical chapters analyse the consequences of this ‘mismatch.’ By applying affect theory to the study of class immobility, I recast existing understandings of how people navigate conditions of ‘waithood,’ in particular through reintroducing a focus on stability and power. I argue that these young men survive their classed and aged immobility through forming a ‘cruel attachment’ to a discursive and material terrain of Egyptianised meritocracy that affects them with hope for the future. This terrain was continuously extended by certain labour market industries and institutions, such as training centres, recruitment agencies, and an entrepreneurship ‘scene,’ that constituted part of Cairo’s ‘hopeful city.’ The thesis therefore demonstrates how Egypt’s capitalistauthoritarian regime also survives, securing the compliance of young middle-class men, despite denying them access to respectable middle-class living, by continually regurgitating a hopeful promise of future fulfilment.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Harry Petit
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Geography and Environment
Supervisor: Mercer, Claire and Jones, Gareth
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/3673

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