EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Anthropology of the "New Arab Man"
Location U6-21
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Nefissa Naguib (University of Oslo) email
  • Marcia Inhorn (Yale University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Global forces are challenging and expanding the boundaries of what it means to be a man in the Middle East today. The panel will discuss the future of the conceptual character of the Muslim "man question" through the lens of marriage, family, and community life.

Long Abstract

Thinking about the "man question" in anthropology and masculinities in the Middle East has recently provided important changes in our understanding of male aspirations and practices, emphasizing the plurality and hierarchy of masculinities, and their collective and dynamic character. Global forces such as urbanization, migration, financial crises, political upheavals, expanded educational and employment opportunities as well as old and new media and information technologies are all challenging and expanding the boundaries of what it means to be a man in the Middle East today. The proposed panel seeks to discuss the future of the conceptual character of the "man question" and concrete forms taken by men through the lens of marriage, family, and community life.

The orientation of men, agency, and practice that this panel will bring forward aims to sustain and perhaps refresh what we propose to be the distinction of anthropology's legacy- namely, the exploration of human social and cultural imagination in all its diversity and uncertainty. Papers will address Muslim men´s efforts in their engagements with everyday life commitments, nurturing practices, and contemporary responses to local and global transformations. In addition, discourses of love and care (for children, wives, elders, companions, etc) will be explored in detail through presentations focusing on Muslim populations in Arab countries. Papers will have clearly stated methodologies, and will be embedded in rich theoretical and conceptual analysis about masculinities and the anthropological study of Muslim men in the Arab world.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Gender troubles in Shatila, Lebanon: bodies that matter (the Fidāʾiyyīn's heroism) and undoing gender (the Shabāb's burden)

Author: Gustavo Barbosa (Universidade Federal Fluminense)  email

Short Abstract

The paper shows that, differently from their forebears, who were fighters, today's shabāb from Shatila come of age by attempting to start a family.

Long Abstract

The paper asks how today's lads (shabāb) from the Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, in southern Beirut, come of age and display gender belonging. In Palestine prior to 1948, men came of age by marrying, bearing a son and providing for their families. For the Palestinian diaspora in Lebanon, throughout the 1970s, acting as a fidāʾī (fighter) worked as an alternative mechanism for coming of age and displaying gender belonging. Currently, however, both the economic and political-military avenues have ceased to be options open for the Shatila shabāb.

I register the differences between the fidāʾiyyīn and their offspring, the shabāb, in their coming of age and gender display. While the fidāʾiyyīn bore pure agency - understood as resistance to domination - and displayed their maturity through the fight to return to their homeland, their offspring have a more nuanced relation to Palestine and articulate their coming of age and gender belonging in different ways, such as building a house, attempting to get married and starting a family.

By observing how the shabāb do their gender, it is not only the full historicity and changeability in time and space of masculinity that come to the fore, but also the scholarly concepts of agency and gender that can be transformed and undone. Indeed, defining gender strictly in terms of power and relations of domination fails to grasp the experiences of those, like the Shatila shabāb, with very limited access to power - a lesson to be learned by those studying gender in the Middle East and beyond.

Revolution as masculine narrative

Author: Mari Norbakk (University of Bergen)  email

Short Abstract

The paper deals with young, middle class men in Cairo, and shows how the revolution of 2011 becomes a masculinity narrative, granting men agentive space as they struggle to live up to the male ideal of husband and provider.

Long Abstract

In this paper I will present one aspect of Egyptian masculinity, linked to the male ideal of provider for the family. In my ethnography from Cairo, Egypt in the spring of 2013, I present several middle and upper middle class men, all striving to get married and fulfill their role as grown men (Norbakk 2014). In their endeavors they were all faced with the issue of managing to provide the correct symbols of masculine class-status. In one very telling example I show how one of the young men employs the narrative of his participation, ability and bravery during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, to gain more space for masculine maneuvering. In a sense, the revolutionary narrative becomes his claim to manhood, and he uses it as leverage when he struggles to live up to the ideal as male provider. Inspired by Inhorns recent call for ethnographies of Arab men (2012), and Ghannams work on the male lifecycle in Cairo (2013), the paper outlines young Egyptian men's dealings with masculine ideals and the centrality of marriage. The paper goes on to show how the recent revolution becomes entangled with the men's own understanding of what constitutes a good man. Masculinity is viewed as an interactional phenomenon, which is at the same time constituting the men, as they perform and become men, while it also contributes to influence and change the social fabric. As such the masculinities are emergent (Inhorn 2012).

Being a Syrian, a refugee and a man in contemporary Egypt

Author: Magdalena Suerbaum (Max Planck Institute)  email

Short Abstract

Syrian refugee men in Cairo have to negotiate traditional representations of manhood with their lived reality. A focus on changes in Syrian men's work and marriage patterns and on the construction of the Egyptian man as the 'Other' can give insight into current ideas of 'Arab masculinity'.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses how Syrian men in Cairo - most of whom live there since 2012 - renegotiated masculinity after forced displacement. Findings are based on fourteen months of ethnographic research in Cairo in 2014/2015.

Literature on Arab masculinity has been critical of the use of the static notion of 'hegemonic masculinity' (Connell 1995) suggesting instead approaches that include potential for transformation, diversity and historic specificity (Naguib 2015; Inhorn 2012; Aghacy 2009).

Taking in focus changing work and marriage patterns among Syrian men currently living in Cairo reveals on the one hand how refugeeness impacts on men's life, on the other hand, it shows what is perceived as an ideal life trajectory for a Syrian man. Traditional representations of 'ideal' masculinity are in conflict with the lived reality of Syrian men in Egypt and hence Syrian men had to negotiate and make sense of this divergence.

Moreover, this paper will focus on the encounter of Syrian and Egyptian men. The process of creating boundaries between the Syrian 'us' and the Egyptian 'Other' seems to be based on a comparison between men's performances. The 'Other' is measured in relation to how successfully he performs as a man: whether he can provide for his wife and whether he is hardworking and career oriented.

This paper will argue that it is crucial to take into account the dynamic and sometimes contradictory character of masculinity in order to grasp the ongoing changes in the Middle East from a gendered perspective.

Caring but daring: affective flows and gender dynamics in Urban Egypt

Author: Farha Ghannam (Swarthmore College)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic research in a low-income neighborhood in Cairo and recent studies of affect and gender, this paper explores the affective connections and the ethic of care that bind men and women and shape their daily practices and gendered identifications.

Long Abstract

Muslim men and women are often assumed to inhabit different spaces and have their own separate domains. Lost in these assumptions are the flows of affective connections and the ethic of care that bind men and women and shape their practices in a strong and effective way. Drawing on ethnographic research in a low-income neighborhood in northern Cairo and recent studies of affect and gender, this paper looks at notions of care and protection and how they are taught and materialized in emotional bonds and concrete engagements. In particular, I explore how women, especially mothers, work to cultivate a gendered ethic of care in young children that is expected to be part of their interaction with older and younger male and female members of their family and community. Looking at ethos and practices central to the constitution of masculinity such as providing, protecting, and aiding, the paper explores some of the challenges that rapid urbanization, unemployment, and lack of security pose to the constitution of masculinity and the affective connections men are expected to establish with significant others. The paper concludes by considering how to account for the ethics of care that connect men and women without losing sight of the gendered norms and patriarchal values that are being reproduced in the process.

Enacting fatherhood: the shaping and silencing of Egyptian and Moroccan fathers' affective claims during transnational child custody disputes with Dutch mothers

Author: Jessica Carlisle (Goldsmiths, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

Transnational child custody and access disputes (between Moroccan or Egyptian men and Dutch women) subject fathers to the scrutiny of various institutions with differing expectations of gendered parental behaviour. I explore the enactment and outcomes of fathers’ affective claims to their children.

Long Abstract

This paper explores Dutch, Egyptian and Moroccan institutional responses to Egyptian and Moroccan men's 'affective claims' to their children during transnational child custody and access disputes. These transnational disputes span the Dutch/Egyptian and Dutch/Moroccan borders, falling into three legal/bureaucratic categories: cases of alleged international child abduction, of marriage migrant mothers being 'left behind' without their Dutch resident children in Morocco or Egypt, or of undocumented male migrants' deportation from The Netherlands where they have family. In all of these cases one parent becomes transnationally separated from their child.

During the complex, transnational disputes that result, parents submit themselves to multiple evaluations of the legitimacy of their affective claims in two legal systems and have to navigate a complicated web of judgements about their past behaviour and assumed motives, their ethnicity and religion, and their citizenship and residency status. My analysis of fathers' consequent enactment of fatherhood is rooted in the assertion that the expression of emotions is sanctioned or silenced within relations of power that create an affective economy stratified by ethnicity, race, gender, class, sexuality and nation. The result is that fathers exert their agency towards being categorized as having rights to make affective claims to child custody or access.

I concentrate on fathers' accounts in mapping and analysing these disputes based on fieldwork results from 2008-12 in The Netherlands, Morocco and Egypt with parents, government institutions, NGOs and lawyers. I focus on how individual Moroccan and Dutch fathers exploit, or avoid, varying stereotypes about fatherhood and emotion.

From 'becoming parents' to 'becoming life partners': on men, marriage, and accidental feminism in contemporary Lebanon

Author: Sabiha Allouche (SOAS, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

This paper draws on recent fieldwork to argue that marriage in contemporary Lebanon is increasingly articulated along the rhetoric of 'becoming life partners' rather than 'becoming parents'.

Long Abstract

This paper works through the theoretical framework of the 'political economy of love' (Padilla et al., 2008), and draws on empirical data collected from recent fieldwork, in order to argue that the discourse of marriage in contemporary Lebanon is increasingly articulated along the rhetoric of 'becoming life partners', rather than 'becoming parents'. This shift is twofold. Firstly, the relevance of leisure and pleasure, affect and bonding, in addition to a consumerist life projected towards a 'good future', are inconsistent with the western depiction of a Middle East that disagrees with 'love' and 'fun'. Secondly, this shift urges us to rethink the western conceptualization of intimacy itself. If anything, prospective marriage partners in Lebanon actively seek the inclusion of others during the consolidation of their partnership. This inclusion, however, does not limit or attenuate the affective bond between partners, and is seen as necessary for the safeguarding of their relationship on the long-term. Both conclusions co-reside along an emerging masculinity that is one step closer to 'letting go' of inherited patriarchal praxis. Still, and before jumping to celebratory conclusions, I prefer to refer to said emerging masculinity as 'accidental feminism', seeing the outside-inside linearity of the forces of change (immigration, geopolitics, economy) that accompanied such shift.

Big-hearted, light-blooded: Muslim men and nurturing.

Author: Nefissa Naguib (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

This paper is a turn towards the notion of culture and food as an “art of living” and as a way for men to engage with everyday family living.

Long Abstract

This paper is a turn towards the notion of culture and food as an "art of living" and as a way for men to engage with everyday family living. I make two central arguments. The first is that food creates a core social bond between men and their household and community. The second is that food serves to overturn the Muslim Arab masculinity slot, since it marks or mediates men as active and practicing nurturers. What makes food such a powerful arena of masculinity in Egypt? How does food construct men's terrain of nurturing and relationships?

I hope that this exploration into what food should and can do in men´s daily practices opens up interesting questions regarding gender and the anthropology of food in the Middle East.

Crafting romance with limited resources? Young Ammani men negotiating masculinity and "true love"

Author: Sandra Nasser El-Dine (University of Tampere)  email

Short Abstract

My paper discusses the current struggles and negotiations of young Ammani men in performing masculinity in romantic relationships. In Jordanian cultural context, material exchanges and producing love are entangled, yet the resources of young men are often limited due to the current economic climate.

Long Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted among local and Syrian middle-class youth in the Jordanian capital Amman, my paper discusses the current struggles of young men in performing masculinity in romantic relationships. This discussion is based on a notion of love, present in my interlocutors' narratives, and also stated by bell hooks: "love is an action, never simply a feeling". In my interlocutors' narratives, romantic love (associated with the local concept of ʿishra) is presented as processual, developing in reciprocal interaction. Especially unselfish actions for the sake of the partner and the exchange of gifts and favours are seen as important symbolic expressions of love, and also as essential in creating love. Love is therefore not "just an emotion", as it needs to be continuously produced by repetitive performative acts of attending to the needs and requests of the partner, according to gender specific roles.

In addition, these processes are deeply entangled with materiality. For most young women, their partner's financial investments in a relationship signal care, commitment and respect. Conceptualising material exchanges in intimate relationships within this framework questions the dichotomisation between 'love' and 'money', present in the current Western idealised notion of 'true love'. However, the role of material exchanges in generating love is problematic for young men in the current economic climate, as performing masculinity in a relationship often requires unattainable financial capacity. Young men therefore negotiate the entanglement of material exchanges and love, and often equate their partner's willingness to compromise on material necessities with 'true love'.

Egyptian middle class masculinity and its "masculine other"

Author: Bard Kartveit (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork Alexandria, Egypt, this paper will focus on the formation of middle class masculine subjectivities, and the notion of the ‘predatory working class man’ as their ‘masculine other.’

Long Abstract

In recent years, new ethnographies on Middle Eastern masculinities have offered nuanced and emphatic portrayals of men in the Middle East. By exploring how masculine ideals and practices varies within the region, change with age, across generations, and in response to social and economic pressures, scholars have challenged Western constructs of Arab men as oppressive patriarchs, sexual predators and religious zealots. At the same time, some of these constructs are found in the Middle East as well, where they serve multiple functions.

Based on fieldwork in the city of Alexandria, this paper will focus on the formation of masculine subjectivities among Middle Class Egyptians, both Muslims and Copts. In this setting, some young men place conjugal connectivity at the center of their masculine aspirations, explicitly striving towards greater skills at communicating with their fiancés or wives, and greater sensitivity towards their needs. In doing so, they define themselves in opposition to men of earlier generations, but also in opposition to the 'uneducated,' 'predatory' working class man that constitutes their 'masculine other.' Seen as lacking in culture and civility, as representing a thuggish form of masculinity, these men are widely regarded as sources of trouble, and as perpetrators of harassment in public spaces. Highlighting the importance of class, this paper will explore how the construct of a working class 'masculine other' demarcates class-based social boundaries, serves to emphasize the virtues of a 'softer' masculinity among middle class men, and to highlight their responsibility in protecting 'their' women from unwanted male attention.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.