Hazem Jamjoum

Area and Cultural StudiesNew York University (NYU)

Award Information

2017 IDRF Program

Area and Cultural StudiesNew York University (NYU)

Producing the Arab Cultural Arena: Capital, Class and State in Egypt 1903-1952

The year 1903 witnessed the first ever recording of an Arabic. During the decades that followed, music production in Egypt was forever changed; it had entered global circuits of capital accumulation. In those same decades, became home to one of the region's largest urban middle classes—the main consumers of the new musical commodity—and the city had ascended to the status of the Arab world's cultural center. At the time of the first recording, there was no Arabic equivalent for the European word "culture," and artistic production was rarely, if ever, described as "Arab." By the early 1930s, not only had the word thaqafa come in to common usage, it connoted a sphere of activity, a cultural arena, in which the Egyptian state and urban middle classes, as well as European imperial powers with interests in Egypt were all heavily invested as they vied for cultural hegemony. My research attempts to interrogate the interrelations between state and class power, culture as an arena for the exercise of this power, and capital. I propose to do this through a commodity history of music production in Egypt between 1903 and 1952, the year in which the Free Officers' Coup brought Nasserism to power. I aim to carry out this research by examining business and state archives, personal papers, music treatises, the periodical press and musical recordings in Arabic, English, French, German and Italian to test the following hypothesis: that the capitalist commodification of music was part of a broader process of creating an Arab cultural arena as a new field of power in interwar Egypt in which different actors sought to project their power. Among the implications of this argument is that the core vehicle for Nasserist political hegemony in the Arab world, pan-Arab nationalism, was predicated on the existence of an Arab cultural arena in which Egypt had achieved primacy as a result of the ways in which the expressive arts were commodified and commercialized in the preceding half-century.