Thursday, September 5, 2013

Faculty Forum - Self-Help Literature and Capitalist Culture in Egypt

Speaker Jeff Kenney, September 10, 2013, in the UB 231/232, beginning at 11:30 am.

News coming out of Egypt these days suggests a country at war with itself, and one where progress toward modernization has been reversed. A very different picture of Egypt emerges when one scans the bookstalls that pepper the old downtown area of Cairo, the nation’s capital. At these stalls, personal growth and self-help literature has become the mainstay. The growth in this literature over the past two decades provides powerful evidence that Egyptians are intent on becoming better public speakers, better spouses and parents, better lovers, better workers, better individuals overall in their public and private lives. A main feature of the genre is its focus on the self, not a moral "Muslim self" in line with traditional Islamic medicine and psychology but rather an "enterprising self" that reflects modern psychological insight into the self as a project and capitalist concerns with autonomy and self-reliance. The popularity of this enterprising self attests to the dominance of (neoliberal) capitalism in Egypt, and establishes the groundwork for a spiritualization of class-based lifestyles—two trends that parallel economic and social developments in the West. In the talk, Kenney will outline the contours of his research on self-help in Egypt and what drew his attention to the subject. (This project has been supported, in part, by a New Directions Initiative grant, which allowed Kenney to travel, in January 2013, to Oman, Morocco, and Egypt to survey the depth and extent of the self-help genre in the Middle East.)

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