Department of Social Anthropology

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Love and Responsibility. An ethnography of Masculinities and Marriage in Urban Egypt

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Master's thesis submitted at Department of Social Anthropology, spring 2014.

By: Mari Norbakk
Supervisor: Nefissa Naguib

This thesis deals with masculinity in Cairo, Egypt. It argues that masculinity has an interactional basis, in the sense of G.H. Mead’s theory of the self. (1934) The thesis is an ethnographic exploration of some interactional aspects of masculinity.

Central questions are - Do men have alternative arenas for asserting masculinity in times of financial insecurity? - How do men deal with negative media-fuelled stereotypes of themselves? - How do hopes and desires for their marriage manifest and influence both them and their society?

Inspired by recent calls for ethnographic accounts of Middle Eastern masculinities (Inhorn 2012, Ghannam 2013), this thesis seeks to contribute to this body of literature. The focus of the ethnographic exploration has been young men before and in the process of getting married. Marriage and especially the process of getting married give the anthropologist the opportunity to observe the young men in a process of a life-altering period of time. Topics such as economic status, hopes and desires for the future, material symbols of manhood all manifest in and around the event of marriage. The way the young men speak of and hope for love is central, and sheds light on the process of changing, and at the same time maintaining the patriarchal structures. Masculinities are ambiguous and in constant flux. They have an emergent character, and as such, contribute to larger processes of emergence.

The thesis deals with how men as gendered agents manoeuvre and navigate social and cultural structures to create space of action. This space of action is then capitalized on by becoming arenas for alternative production and performance of masculinity. Manoeuvrings in this sense feeds into ideas of patriarchal norms, changing and in some ways weakening, and in others reinforcing, the patriarchal systems.