Virtual and Urban Intimacies : Youth, Desires and Mediated Relationships in an Egyptian City

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http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:ISBN 978-951-51-5385-2
Title: Virtual and Urban Intimacies : Youth, Desires and Mediated Relationships in an Egyptian City
Author: Jyrkiäinen, Senni
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Doctoral Programme in Gender, Culture and Society
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2019-09-14
URI: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:ISBN 978-951-51-5385-2
http://hdl.handle.net/10138/304839
Thesis level: Doctoral dissertation (monograph)
Abstract: Through a focus on the usage of smartphones and other digital communication tools amongst young people in Alexandria, this research examines the technologically mediated navigation of desires for love and marriage in post-2011 Egypt. Based on long-term ethnography, the thesis analyses how university students and graduates managed their intimate relationships and marital futures both online and within city gathering places in Alexandria, Egypt’s second biggest city. Focusing on relations between young, relatively well-off, socially progressive yet not subversive Alexandrians and new technologies, it explores their aspirations for, and negotiations with, modernity, particularly in relation to emotional expectations and gender roles in intimate relationships, but also in relation to class-specific ideas of ‘modern’ urban life. The thesis extends existing anthropological accounts of Egypt that explore intimacy, desiring selves and ‘modern’ aspirations among this particular demographic of urban youth. Whereas other studies might be looking for alternative or radical departures from dominant norms, this thesis concentrates squarely on those caught between wanting to comply with what is expected from them while simultaneously finding it constraining. In particular, the thesis describes how a shift from shared computers at home to smartphones, which provide more private and mobile communication for these young people, has had two significant effects. While the change has enabled secret romances and autonomous searches for a spouse, at the same time, it has also resulted in new forms of surveillance and control. The analysis of youthful online interaction revealed skilful alternation between compliant, playful and sarcastic tones. As such, it shows how users performed their compliance with prevailing gender norms in some social contexts, while playfully challenging them in others. With regard to the shaping of the self, digital communication platforms were a versatile instrument. On the one hand, these socially progressive yet compliant young Alexandrians used Facebook for reinforcing the ties of kinship and for performing as connected, family-oriented people. On the other, they used private digital communication channels and young people’s social spaces in the city in ways that helped them perform more individualistic interests and give a sense of individual agency; this included showing at least temporary indifference towards dominant gender and age expectations, and escaping what they imagined to be the public moral gaze. By using various communication tools, they engaged in flirtation and romance that sometimes extended beyond what they understood to be the limits set by norms of religion and ethnicity, as well as the barriers created by physical distance. The study is based on ethnographic research in Alexandria and in virtual environments. I conducted nearly ten months of ethnographic fieldwork among young people, mostly in the coastal city of Alexandria between the years of 2011 and 2014. The research was at times cut short because of the unstable political situation in Egypt at the time, particularly in 2013. In addition to ethnographic work, which involved participating in people’s everyday lives, I interviewed young Alexandrians and their mothers as well as some experts on youth issues. I also conducted online ethnography throughout the research project from 2011 to 2018, focusing mainly on Facebook and some blogs. Overall, the ethnography provided me with insights into the ways ICTs can be used as agency-providing navigation tools and turned into intimate technologies in the hands of young people. Perhaps most importantly, my focus on intimacy, and the techniques these young Alexandrians developed to explore that aspect of their lives online, revealed a complex blurring of boundaries between public and private. This took place within a social context in which these young people were aware that they were supposed to strongly maintain such boundaries, yet in a digital environment in which the most intimate moments were sometimes shared with large audiences at the push of a button. The thesis explores how these young people worked towards navigating this relatively new, and at times quite socially dangerous, social space of intimate practices, and how they acted to maintain a separation between that intimate space and their offline social world, or at least the parts of it that they imagined must be kept separate.Väitöskirjassani tarkastelen rakkauteen ja avioliittoon kohdistuvien halujen ja haaveiden teknologiavälitteistä navigointia yliopisto-opiskelijoiden ja vastavalmistuneiden keskuudessa Egyptissä. Pitkäkestoiseen etnografiaan perustuva tutkimukseni sijoittuu vuoden 2011 kansannousun jälkeiseen aikaan, jolloin epävakaa poliittinen tilanne leimasi nuorten päivittäistä arkea ja heijastui tulevaisuudennäkymiin. Tein pääosan lähes kymmenen kuukautta kestäneestä kenttätyöstä Välimeren rannalla sijaitsevassa yli viiden miljoonan asukkaan Aleksandriassa, Egyptin toiseksi suurimmassa kaupungissa vuosina 2011–2014. Tein myös verkkoetnografista tutkimusta erityisesti Facebookissa ja suosituissa egyptiläisissä blogeissa. Tutkimuksessani selvitän, kuinka uusien teknologioiden piirissä olevat, melko hyvätuloiset nuoret aikuiset käyttivät matkapuhelimiaan ja sosiaalisen median alustoja sekä kaupungin kokoontumispaikkoja seurustelusuhteiden rakentamiseen ja avionäkymien muovaamiseen. Erityisesti tutkimukseni kuvaa tutkimieni nuorten osalta, kuinka siirtyminen usean käyttäjän jakamista tietokoneista entistä yksityisempiin mobiiliviestimiin on tuonut mukanaan kaksi merkittävää muutosta: toisaalta siirtymä tarjosi mahdollisuuden salaisiin romansseihin ja itsenäiseen puolisonhakuun, toisaalta se tuotti uusia valvonnan ja kontrollin muotoja. Keskittyminen teknologiavälitteisen intiimiyden navigointiin toi esiin julkisen ja yksityisen välisten rajojen hämärtymisen sosiaalisessa kontekstissa, jossa tutkimukseeni osallistuneet nuoret toisaalta pitivät rajojen ylläpitämistä tärkeänä ja jossa toisaalta digitaalisesta ympäristöstä johtuen intiimeimmätkin hetket voitiin jakaa suurille yleisöille yhdellä napin painalluksella. Tutkimuksessani tarkastelen, kuinka tutkimukseeni osallistuneet aleksandrialaiset suunnistivat tässä sosiaalisessa mielessä joskus vaarallisessakin intiimien käytäntöjen tilassa, ja kuinka he toimivat pitääkseen sen tietyiltä osin erillään perheen, suvun ja naapuruston muodostamasta sosiaalisesta maailmasta.
Subject: Sosiaali- ja kulttuuriantropologia
Rights: This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for Your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.


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