October 27: Views from the Balcony: Space, Class, and Taste in Urban Egypt

Views from the Balcony: Space, Class, and Taste in Urban Egypt

Farha Ghannam
Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Swarthmore College


The Balcony is an important space in Cairo. This space of in-betweenness, both public and private, inside and outside, here and there, comes in different shapes, colors, and sizes. It affords the residents of Cairo not only a functional space but also a socio-cultural medium that allows them to circulate meanings and display their status. In particular, this space allows families in low-income neighborhoods to materialize various inequalities and tastes. Drawing on ethnographic research, theories of practice, and feminist scholarship on new materialism, this talk explores how the balcony connects and separates, enables and limits, and protects and exposes. It shows that the balcony is a productive space for urban studies that helps us account for the multiple disparities and complex forces that structure daily life in cities and shows the agency of urban dwellers in shaping both their individual housing units and the space of the neighborhood at large.

Farha Ghannam is Professor of Anthropology at Swarthmore College. Her research and teaching focus on globalization, urban life, identity, gender, and embodiment. She is the author of Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo (University of California press 2002) and Live and Die like a Man: Gender Dynamics in Urban Egypt (Stanford University Press 2013). Her work has also been published in key journals including the American Ethnologist, Visual Anthropology, City and Society, Ethnos, and the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled “The Gender of Class: Social Inequalities in a Global Cairo.”