for autonomous sociology

Nationalist Tastes and Intellectual Struggles in Egypt

This is a talk I gave at the annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in New Orleans on 12 October 2013, in the panel ‘The Politics of Taste in the Late Ottoman Empire and Egypt’. In under 15 minutes, it outlines the main argument of my PhD thesis and gives a few examples.

Here’s the abstract:

In the early 20th century, Egyptian effendi intellectuals used nationalism to introduce new tastes in literature, cinema, music, journalism, and other cultural practices into Egypt. To this end, they constructed a nationalism that portrayed them as ideally qualified to be the nation’s guides, in contrast to the clergy, whose qualifications they devalued. Thus the promotion of nationalist tastes not only advanced effendi intellectuals’ careers by creating demand for their products; it was also a strategy in a broader struggle among Egyptians over prestige, credibility, and economic interests. This struggle was carried out in the pages of novels and essays, in political conflicts over educational policy, in courtrooms, and in the streets. The nationalism that emerged from this struggle, and became part of respectable mainstream tastes, increasingly resembled religion, and helped legitimize military dictatorship in the 1950s.