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Accepted Paper:

Living the dream: youth, unemployment, and the promise of a middle-class life in Cairo  
Harry Pettit (Radboud University Nijmegen)

Paper short abstract:

How do people enact mobile lives? In Cairo educated unemployed young men construct an imaginative sense of possibility through inhabiting hopeful visions and meritocratic discourses promising the good life, discourses which, cruelly, legitimate the structural forms of inequality which have marginalized them

Paper long abstract:

How do people attempt to enact mobile lives in locations where movement is perpetually inhibited? This paper explores the practices through which educated unemployed young men in Cairo construct an imaginative sense of possibility in a context where they face expulsion from aspirational modes of middle-class living. By latching on to accessible visions, symbols, and spaces of the good life, they endeavour to shift their consciousness away from a frustrating daily reality into the imagined future, towards an anticipated moment of fulfilment (of their desires for consumption, for love, and for employment). Moral value is gained in the present through an ability to 'struggle' for respectable living. This endeavour, however, is threatened by constant reminders of existing immobility.

Articulating mobility requires investment in various knowledge frameworks that offer up the promise of future satisfaction (such as religious divination, self-help, and meritocracy). This 'promise', more and more, is portrayed as contingent upon the moral, cultural, and socio-economic behaviour of the autonomous individual. This portrayal provides these immobile young men with an imaginary blueprint for future mobility, a source of hope and power in uncertain times. However, in a context in which little ever works out the way it is hoped, such optimism garnered from these systems of knowledge becomes cruel, and eternally unrealisable. These young men come to place the responsibility for success or failure upon themselves, and therefore sustain a meritocratic principle that keeps the focus away from the reproductive forms of inequality which continue to ensure their marginality.

Panel P145
Hope, home and abroad
  Session 1