Accepted paper:

Living the Dream: youth, unemployment, and the promise of a middle-class life in Cairo


Harry Pettit (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

How do people enact mobile lives? In Cairo, educated unemployed young men construct an imaginative sense of possibility through inhabiting hopeful visions promising the good life, visions which, cruelly, legitimate the historically constituted forms of inequality which have marginalized them.

Paper long abstract:

How do people attempt to enact mobile lives in locations where movement is perpetually inhibited? This paper explores the practices through which educated unemployed young men in Cairo construct an imaginative sense of possibility in a context where they face expulsion from aspirational modes of middle-class living. By latching on to accessible visions, symbols, and spaces of the good life, they endeavor to shift their consciousness away from a frustrating present into the realm of the imagined future, towards an anticipated moment of fulfillment (of their desires for consumption, for love, for employment). This endeavor to enact a mobile present, however, is threatened by constant reminders of existing immobility. Articulating social and temporal mobility requires investment in various knowledge frameworks that offer up the promise of future satisfaction (such as religious divination, self-help, and meritocracy). This promise, more and more, is portrayed as contingent upon the moral, cultural, and socio-economic behavior of the autonomous individual. It is a portrayal which provides these immobile young men with an imaginary blueprint for future mobility, a source of hope and power in uncertain times. However, in a context in which little ever works out the way it is hoped, such optimism garnered from these systems of knowledge becomes cruel, and eternally unrealizable. These young men focus the responsibility for success or failure upon themselves, and therefore sustain a meritocratic system of future-orientated knowledge that keeps attention away from the past, and the historically constituted forms of inequality which have produced their marginality.

panel P57
Im)possible lives: on futures as process