On Friendship between the No Longer and the Not Yet: An Ethnographic Account
Cairo Papers in Social Science Vol. 35, No. 4
by Soha Mohsen
An ethnographic study of the contemporary meanings, forms, and purposes of friendship among young Egyptians
There is a great deal to be said about ideas and imaginations of the “future” when one does not have the luxury of maintaining a slot in the present. In the midst of acute conditions of precarity and structural violences and vulnerabilities of different forms (political, economic, social, infrastructural) and magnitudes, Egyptians find ways to adapt and adjust, even experiment, with different arrangements and forms of connectedness.
By following, tracing, and accompanying friends and networks of friendship in and across Egypt’s two biggest cities, Cairo and Alexandria, this ethnographic account aims to highlight some of the contemporary meanings, forms, and purposes of friendship among young Egyptians with the aim of renewing and reviving the question, “What can friendships do?”
Against a backdrop of conditions of precarity and the ruins of finance capitalism, this study examines the manifestations of how the relationship of friendship manages to re-invent and re-define itself. Moreover, it asks whether new modes of relationality, companionship, and intimacy can be cultivated and practiced given the current neoliberal conditions of living. The questions that this study attempts to open up are focused on the re-workings, reconfigurations, and re-makings of practices of sociality and intimacy between friends.
Inheritances, Traces, and Trails of Intimacy
Situating Friendship: Atmospheres, Pockets, and Infrastructures of Sociality
To Attune, to Attend, to Accompany: Learning by Being With, Within, Without
Plan of the Work
2 While We’re Here, Pass This with Me: On the Project of Friendship in a Present of Ruins
My State of Being Is Walking: Mashy al-hal/Mashya
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Any More, or, How Predictable Is Precarity?
You Can Count on Me: Economies and Labors of Intimacy
Modes of Sociality/Intimacy: How Deep Is Your Love?
Friends as Polyphonic Assemblages: From Scattered Individual Melodies to Rhythmic Collective Harmonies
3 Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train: On the Becoming of Friends and the Making of Cities
Vignette: Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, and Other Ordinary Affects
Urban Intimacy and Talking about Cities: Recuperation, Remembrances, Recompositions
In Friendship We Dwell: On Movement and Stillness
4 That It Is from Your Eye that I Find Myself: The Making of Friendship, the Making of Selves
On Naked Personalities and Difficult Truths
Jumana and Yasmine: We Hide and We Seek (Each Other)
Friendship Makes and Friendship Breaks: Archives of Flesh and Blood
To Be Answerable, One Has to Be Able to Answer
5 Mafish Sahib Yetsahib . . . O My Friends, There Is No Friend: An Ode to Friendship, an Ode to the Loss of It
Vignette: O My Friends, There Is No Friend
Friendship: A Suspension between the No Longer and the Not Yet
“But the Knot Remembers Everything”: On Growing Out of Friendship
About the Author
Soha Mohsen is an anthropology PhD student at the University of California, Davis. She was an adjunct faculty member in the department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Egyptology at the American University in Cairo beginning Spring 2019, and earned the Andrew Mellon Huss-Lab post MA fellowship in Fall 2019.