Accepted Paper:

Material Worlds, Material Lives: an ethnographic study of secondhand stuff in Cairo  


Eman Shehata

Paper short abstract:

Through an investigation of material transformations, this paper gives a glimpse of the lifeworlds and historically forged relationships between subjects whose lives and livelihoods are caught up with used stuff in Cairo. Thus, bringing forth entanglements of temporalities and spaces.

Paper long abstract:

Inspired by calls for 'following the thing' and anthropological conversations on things of rubbish value, this paper follows the lives of used objects and materials and the people, worlds and institutions they bring together. This study of secondary materiality in Cairo builds on Thompson's Rubbish Theory as it adopts a dynamic theory of things. I therefore trace durable objects as well as things of rubbish value as they move between different categories, looking at the entanglements between the different people who are engaged in their circulation. I make sense of the different flows of used and discarded materials in Cairo by considering culturally and historically specific frameworks and registers, thus shedding light on the plurality of materiality. I also frame this study within the wider contexts of power and class shaping the entwined lives of materials and people.

Abandoned in derelict apartments, displaced, thrown away, resold or decomposed and transformed into other objects, used materials tell us many stories about the city of Cairo and the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on them. Each chapter in this dissertation gives the reader a glimpse of what secondary materials tell us about struggles, triumphs, cultural identities and relationships subjects have with the past and with others.

Panel P109
Hoarding, temporality, and value: regimes of accumulation and dispersal