Current Institutional Affiliation
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Arabic, Dartmouth College

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Near Eastern Studies, Cornell University
Sounding the Nation: Cassettes, Culture, and Everyday Life in Modern Egypt (1970-2010)

In the 1970s, blaring cassette tapes became an integral component of Egypt's soundscape. Unlike state-controlled Egyptian radio, cassette technology allowed millions of people to participate regularly in a dynamic culture molded by the masses. For the first time in Egypt's history, ordinary Egyptians – no longer simply listeners – created, distributed, and absorbed an unprecedented array of auditory material that circumvented cultural gatekeepers, challenged the state's monopoly on cultural production, and contributed to changing notions of "Egyptianness". Through an interdisciplinary analysis of the production, circulation, and consumption of cassettes from 1970 through 2010, I will construct a sensory history of this overlooked medium that enriches "bottom-up" and "top-down" approaches to cultural production by bringing into conversation "high" and "low" culture, the sacred and the profane, colloquial and classical Arabic, producers and consumers, and the urban and the rural. Drawing on audio, textual, and visual sources, I explore the structures, actors, and discourses central to Egypt's cassette culture and unpack the complex relationship between cassettes, radio, and records. I make three interventions in the study of modern Egypt. First, I reorient the historiography, which is characterized by excessive attention to the visual, completely overshadowing the aural. Second, I engage discussions of Arab mass media and Egypt's expressive culture, which are often limited to state-sanctioned musicians and adopt Islam as an analytical lens. Third, I complicate narratives of national identity that rely on the writings of society's elites to explicate the making of Egyptians. Positioned at the crossroads of social history, cultural anthropology, and sound and technology studies, this dissertation promises to make a critical contribution to both Egyptian historiography and broader discussions about sensory histories, popular culture, and technopolitics.

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