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  • Connected in Cairo: Growing Up Cosmopolitan in the Modern Middle East
  • Farha Ghannam (bio)
Connected in Cairo: Growing Up Cosmopolitan in the Modern Middle East, by Mark Allen Peterson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 288 pages. $70 cloth; $24.95 paper.

Connected in Cairo offers a vivid analysis of the Egyptian "cosmopolitan class" (p. 2), its consumption practices, and its [End Page 543] quest to be globally linked, regionally informed, and locally anchored. Peterson examines different objects (magazines and video games among others), explores several spaces (such as coffee houses and fast-food restaurants), interacts with various social groups (including children, college students, parents, and entrepreneurs), and draws upon multiple methodologies (including analysis of magazines, debates in classes at the American University in Cairo, and interviews with men and women). He argues that cosmopolitan Egyptians (who represent 3-6% or 2-4 million people) are "cultural brokers between the East and West, local and global, cultural and modern" (p. 188), who work to establish an "essential balance between [being] fully Egyptian and fully modern" (p. 213). Through their consumption patterns as well as the production, management, and marketing of most of the enterprises that have been transforming Egypt over the past few decades, these Egyptians are "giving Cairo its increasingly cosmopolitan face and enabling the processes collectively glossed as 'globalization'" (p. 213). The author concludes that cosmopolitanism is "a grounded social category situated in a particular time and space and constituted by concrete social practices" (p. 216).

Connected in Egypt provides scholars and students of globalization, class, and modernity with a timely and much needed glimpse of the struggles, negotiations, and challenges that face elite men and women in their attempts to materialize specific tastes, visions, and ways of being. The book's focus on the economically privileged classes is a particularly welcomed contribution that bridges an important gap in the anthropology of the Middle East in general and the anthropology of urban Egypt in particular, which tends to focus largely on low-income groups. The array of different experiences, individuals, and products presented in the book gives the reader a sense of the complex desires, visions, and dispositions that structure and challenge key concepts like modernity, identity, and authenticity.

The book pays attention not only to flows between the West and the rest but expands the discussion to look at other connections, especially with oil-producing countries. Gulf countries have become an important node in the circulation of people, products, and discourses that in powerful ways structure the national and religious identities constructed by Egyptians. While one might disagree with the author's relegation of these connections to a process of "regionalization" rather than globalization, the reader will definitely appreciate the interesting insights Peterson provides into how flows from Gulf countries (such as magazines produced in Kuwait and debates about Pokémon by religious authorities in Saudi Arabia) inform the consumption patterns, imagination, and identities of cosmopolitan Egyptians.

The focus on class, which has tended to be marginalized in recent anthropological work on the Middle East, is also an important contribution of the book. Informed by the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Peterson accounts not only for the economic resources but also the cultural, social, and symbolic forms of capital that structure status and life styles and how they shape the connections forged inside and outside Egypt. Yet, part of the power of Bourdieu's model is its insistence on how variations in the volume and composition of capital constitute multiple fractions within each social class who struggle over distinction and legitimacy. There are refreshing moments in the book when we get a glimpse of these differences, such as when the owner of a pizza parlor talks about targeting those who have the money (mainly from work in oil-producing countries) but not the cultural capital (for example, knowledge of English) or taste for Western products. However, these differences and the struggles they generate remain marginalized in the book. There is little conceptualization of how different segments within the cosmopolitan class (for example, the new vs. the old rich) struggle over the meanings of piety, modernity, citizenship, and national belonging.

The book's ability to connect different social agents...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-3461
Print ISSN
0026-3141
Pages
pp. 543-545
Launched on MUSE
2012-09-23
Open Access
No
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