Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Egyptian times: Temporality, personhood, and the technopolitical making of modern Egypt, 1830-1930
by Barak, On, Ph.D., New York University, 2009, 409; 3380301
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines how the introduction of new technologies such as the railway, tramway, and telegraph generated in Egypt unique practices of timekeeping, personhood, and conviviality between the 1830s and 1930s. However, this project cannot be seen as an attempt to "provincialize Europe" with an alternative history of technology in the non-West. Paradoxically, rather than simply destabilize, problematize, or decenter the familiar narrative of technological modernization and reform, historical evidence to the contrary also seems to make it more durable. This paradox and its temporal manifestations form the central axis of this study. How does the empty and homogeneous mechanical time of modernity concur with the multiple heterogeneous temporalities that impregnate it?

The study shows that technologies of transportation and communication did not play in Egypt the generic role of driving forces of social synchronization and standardized timekeeping conventionally assigned to them in the social sciences. Instead, the dissertation recounts, for example, how the racial presuppositions of British engineers about "indolent and time-mindless Orientals" percolated into railway scheduling and management schemes. Translated into what I call "technologics" fusing together the technical and social, racial conjectures turned trains and telegraphs into agents of tardiness and time-lag. Thus, in Egypt key technologies of "time-space compression" simultaneously produced also time-space expansion: carrying along the comparative frameworks that revealed them to both Europeans and Egyptians as slow and belated when contrasted with metropolitan technologies, these networks were at once punctual and overdue, swift and sluggish. The dissertation explores Egyptian modernity as this paradoxical experience of comparability and difference, temporal homogeneity and heterogeneity, moving swiftly ahead while remaining always one step behind. It examines how such a differential simultaneity informed Egyptian anti-colonial nationalism, class, and gender relations, among various other such aspects of everyday life understood in the most literal sense of quotidian schedules and routines.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fahmy, Khaled
Commitee: Gilsenan, Michael, Lockman, Zach, Mitchell, Timothy, Rajagopal, Arvind
School: New York University
Department: Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Middle Eastern history
Keywords: Egypt, Modernity, Personhood, Railways, Technology, Temporality
Publication Number: 3380301
ISBN: 978-1-109-50753-9
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