Doctoral Dissertation Research: Christine Smith: The Effect of State Violence on Mobility and Urban Space

  • Secor, Anna (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


Project Summary: State violence in Egypt is an embedded part of daily life. Instances of state violence are depicted within popular television serials, popular jokes, and in commonly told stories. The revolution of January 25, which took place in Egypt, was organized in large part against violence and torture regularly delivered by police forces. Yet, despite the popular uprising against emergency laws and state violence in 2011, there are still reports of violence and torture throughout the country particularly in the capital city of Cairo. This research project asks how a history of state violence continues to shape urban life for two generations of low-income Egyptian citizens in Cairo. The project will focus on four selected sites of Cairo: Kholousy Street in Shoubra, Muskie Market in Old Cairo, Cairo University in Giza, and Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. These sites have been chosen because they represent different nodes of daily life (shopping, leisure, education, and political participation) for low-income Cairenes. Research methods will include participant observation at the four sites, focus groups and interviews with low-income Cairo residents in two age cohorts: one group of participants between the ages of 18 and 26, and a second cohort between the ages of 49 and 57. The three primary research questions are: RQ 1: How does state violence impact daily urban mobility practices within the selected sites? RQ 2: Within the four selected sites, what elements of the urban environment are symbolic of the period of emergency laws under Hosni Mubarak for Cairenes and how are they represented and interpreted? RQ 3: Within the four selected sites, how do Cairenes represent and interpret the events since January 25, 2011? For each of these questions, the research will provide a gender sensitive comparison of the two age cohorts in order to gain insight into the role of youth and memory in Cairenes’ interpretations and representations of the Mubarak era and the recent revolution. Insofar as the overthrow of Mubarak was largely attributed to Egyptian youth and widespread anger over police violence, this project proposes to deepen our understanding of generational politics in Egypt by exploring differences and similarities in the perspectives and experiences of the older generation (those who were youths when Mubarak came to power in 1981) and today’s youth, examining the emotional implications of state violence, how the urban landscape is constituted by and experienced through memories and emotions, and how a legacy of state violence and political upheaval are refracted by generational differences and gender. This work contributes to studies within feminist geopolitics, memory and emotion within geography by understanding the lives of two generations of Cairenes through their experience of the landscape and places they inhabit, maneuver through, and create with the memory and threat of state violence. Intellectual Merit: Egypt is currently one of the most politically stable of the countries (Libya, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia) in the Middle East undergoing rapid and dynamic change, thus providing a vantage point from which to research processes that are taking place throughout the region. The proposed study will begin in September 2012, after the scheduled presidential elections, placing it in the thick of national and everyday processes of building a new political system and culture more just and equitable than before. The intellectual merit of this project is in part that it will provide insight into how the experience of state violence influences practices of daily life (mobility, leisure activities, errands, etc.) and the subsequent ramifications for political transitions and democracy building. Additionally, by comparing the way that two generations frame their experiences of the state, violence, and urban life in Cairo, this research will verify if perceptions and emotional processes differ by age and will unpack how these two generational groups understand each other’s hopes, aspirations, and daily negotiations. Broader Intellectual Impact: This project will provide a site-specific analysis of the effects of emergency law on everyday life in the Middle East, aiding policy analysts and social scientist in their research of the changing political landscape of Egypt and producing generalizable results on changes occurring in the region. Indeed, Research on the use of emergency law is needed, since its use was widespread within the region prior to 2011 (Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain Tunisia). Results will be shared in the form of reports with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and through volunteering services with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. Results will also be disseminated within academic journals, national and international conferences, and through non-academic media such as online magazines and websites.
Effective start/end date8/1/139/30/14


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