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Manufacturing stability: everyday politics of work in an industrial steel town in Helwan, Egypt

Makram Ebeid, Dina (2012) Manufacturing stability: everyday politics of work in an industrial steel town in Helwan, Egypt. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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A few days before Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011, he reminded the Egyptian people that ’istiqrār (‘stability’) was his legacy both domestically and internationally. Their choice was between ‘stability’ and ‘chaos’, he threatened. This thesis argues that stability is a mode of governmentality whose power cannot be fully appreciated at the level of political discourse only. Rather, stability as a practice of government is entangled with peoples’ values, aspirations, and the intimate politics of everyday life. In Egypt between the Free Officers coup of 1952 and the January 25th revolution of 2011, ‘stability’ embodied access to both tenured employment and the means to reproduce the conditions of ‘a good life’ in the context of the family. Adequate understanding of stability and its ubiquity as an ideal must take into account the complex ways in which state projects and imaginative appropriation of those projects intersect. The thesis draws on fieldwork in an industrial neighbourhood of Cairo central to political movements of Egypt to analyse the everyday politics surrounding access to tenured employment in the context of the casualisation of labour and deregulation of capital since the inception of neo-liberal reforms in Egypt in 1991. By analysing the politics of labour at a site of strategic interest to the Egyptian regime from Abdul-Nasser to Mubarak, the thesis highlights how adequate understanding of political economy, practices of governing and neoliberalism must include both the shop floor and the home. The material for this study is drawn from twenty-two months of ethnographic research on the shop-floors and in the homes of the company town of Egypt’s oldest public-owned fully integrated steel plant, the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company (EISCO) in Helwan. I explore how the politics around tenured employment enabled the state to tighten its grip over what historically used to be a leading site of militant labour activism. I argue that the state capitalised on workers’ valuation of relationality and reproduction, represented in their aspiration for ’istiqrār (‘stability’), by confining new temporary fixed-term employment to children and relatives of EISCO permanent workers. In the face of the increased precariousness of work and life conditions under neo-liberalism, permanent work contracts, I propose, acted as a potential property right that transformed a group of militant workers into a privileged group and set their interests against the rest of the working class outside the plant. The thesis shows how the constant innovation in property relations and the re-appropriation of the meaning of work in people’s lives, by turning ‘stability’ from a social value into a productivist and calculative one, perpetuated the capitalist labour regime and values in workers’ communities.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Dina Makram Ebeid
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Parry, Jonathan and Mundy, Martha and Mundy, Martha

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