On freedom, destiny, and consequences: ethnographic theory from Egypt during a stormy season
(Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO))
Paper short abstract:
In a life that is hopeful but also ambiguous, frustrating, and unpredictable - how can one have existential power over one's situation? Or is such power only God's? Reflections by Egyptians about destiny and freedom provide a theory about acting in a world that is not of one's own making.
Paper long abstract:
In a life guided but not determined by grand schemes such as following Muhammad's message, searching for a life in better material conditions, longing for romantic love, and demanding political change - a life that is hopeful but also confusing, frustrating, and ambivalent - how can one have existential power over one's situation? Or is such power only God's? Drawing on the way my Egyptian interlocutors have addressed these questions, but locating the argument in a wider context, I address three important problematics that have emerged in the lives of Egyptians before and during the stormy season of the revolution: freedom, which is an important emic category but not necessarily linked with autonomy; destiny, which is a crucial part of a Muslim lifeworld but rather understudied; and unintended consequences for which we do not yet have a satisfactory anthropological theory. Taking up the reflection of my interlocutors about these issues, I try to show that theirs is a theory that can offer us a better understanding about searching for spaces of action while reckoning with the inevitable.
Destiny, fate, predestination: ethnographies of changing forms of political and intimate life