MESA Book Awards

Farha Ghannam

Swarthmore College

2003 Albert Hourani Book Award Honorable Mention

Farha Ghannam has written a seminal, path-breaking study of the making and remaking of urban space and people’s identities through the spatial practices of ordinary residents of Cairo.  The author draws from theories in cultural studies, anthropology, and political science, and bases her work on extended and in-depth participant observation research.  This book offers a new and highly original look at the intersection of spatial politics and the formation and reshaping of cultural identity.

Ghannam creatively challenges theories of globalization that argue that the world is being homogenized and Americanized and that information, capital and labor flow mainly between the West and the Rest by applying ethnography to make concrete how global images, discourses, and goods are instead transmitted through multiple centers.  The author thus illustrates how notions of modernity are selectively appropriated and how local, national, and global forces intersect to shape cultural identities. 

 Rejecting the prevailing tendency in the globalization literature to cast local responses as forms of resistance to inequalities and injustice, Ghannam shows how actions motivated by people’s desire to improve their lives have political consequences.  People’s practices, tactics, and strategies have transformed state plans for organization of the city of Cairo even without formal mobilization for change.  To explain this original argument, the author illustrates how urban dwellers (as opposed to the state alone) exercise transformative power to use, shape, and reshape the city and urban space.  Urban dwellers in turn make and remake their own cultural identities. 

The author draws far-reaching conclusions based on original research in this important book, which will be widely read among scholars interested in issues of globalization, locality, and discourses of modernity.  It is one of those rare works that manages to exemplify the best of area studies and simultaneously to engage with debates in some of the important theoretical paradigms in the comparative social sciences.

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