Middle East Studies
English edition  
March  2010
304 pp.
21 b/w photographs, 1 table 
15X23 cm
ISBN 9789774163777
For sale only in the Middle East


Shop Floor Culture and Politics in Egypt

Samer Shehata

This new study provides us with a unique and detailed ethnographic portrait of life within two large textile factories in Alexandria, Egypt. Working for nearly a year as a winding machine operator provided Shehata with unprecedented access to workers at the point of production and the activities of the work hall. He argues that the social organization of production in the factories—including company rules and procedures, hierarchy, and relations of authority—and shop floor culture profoundly shape what it means to be a ‘worker’ and how this identity is understood. Shehata reveals how economic relations inside the factory are simultaneously relations of significance and meaning, and how the production of wool and cotton textiles is, at the same time, the production of categories of identity, patterns of human interaction, and understandings of the self and others.
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Samer Shehata is assistant professor of Arab politics at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.

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Ellis Goldberg, University of Washington<br><br>

“This is an outstanding publication. It’s nearly unique and should have an audience beyond Middle East studies …Shehata is a gifted observer and keen writer. The manuscript reads easily and gives the reader a real sense of life on the factory floor as well as Shehata’s own interaction with the people he met. …<br><br>Although there is an extensive literature on the macro-economics of the contemporary Egyptian economy and the failure of the state-run enterprises we actually have very little understanding of how these looked form the inside out. Even the studies of Egyptian labor … present very little evidence about how firms worked. … Shehata’s book therefore fills an important gap in our understanding of the contemporary Egyptian political economy. … There are, to my knowledge, essentially no accounts of participant observation in a factory setting in the Middle East. …Both in felicity of style and content I believe this ms. Ranks with Tally’s Corner and Slim’s Table.<br><br>John Chalcraft, London School of Economics<br><br>

“This is an excellent manuscript, lucidly and engagingly written, important … It will be and deserves to be widely-read in the filed of Middle East studies, Egyptian history, and labour history, and among those interested in ethnographies of work and labour, class formation, hierarchy, and resistance studies.

Where this book is outstanding is in its extensive, detailed, and acutely-observed shopfloor ethnography, which makes it virtually unique in Middle Eastern studies. The final chapter is particularly good at showing how knowledge about hierarchy and class are revealed through the very acts of the researcher entering the field. The making of hierarchy and how class positions are lived is brought out in particularly incisive ways. The arguments about the elusiveness of resistance are drawn in sophisticated ways. The book is a tonic for those wringing their hands over the lack of important new work in labour history, history from below, and popular politics.”

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