Working Out Egypt

Effendi Masculinity and Subject Formation in Colonial Modernity, 1870–1940

Working Out Egypt

Book Pages: 440 Illustrations: 47 illustrations Published: January 2011

Gender and Sexuality, Middle East Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Working Out Egypt is both a rich cultural history of the formation of an Egyptian national subject in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth and a compelling critique of modern Middle Eastern historiography. Wilson Chacko Jacob describes how Egyptian men of a class akin to the cultural bourgeoisie (the effendiyya) struggled to escape from the long shadow cast by colonial depictions of the East as degenerate, feminine, and temporally behind an active and virile Europe. He argues that during British colonial rule (1882–1936), attempts to create a distinctively modern and Egyptian self free from the colonial gaze led to the formation of an ambivalent, performative subjectivity that he calls “effendi masculinity.” Jacob traces effendi masculinity as it took hold during the interwar years, in realms from scouting and competitive sports to sex talk and fashion, considering its gendered performativity in relation to a late-nineteenth-century British discourse on masculinity and empire and an explicitly nationalist discourse on Egyptian masculinity. He contends that as an assemblage of colonial modernity, effendi masculinity was simultaneously local and global, national and international, and particular and universal. Until recently, modern Egyptian history has not allowed for such paradoxes; instead, Egyptian modernity has been narrated in the temporal and spatial terms of a separate Western modernity.


Working Out Egypt blends class-conscious social history with cutting edge reconceptualizations of biopolitical sovereignty and gender performativity – and it does so while avoiding the persistent Eurocentrism of many of the scholars influenced by Foucault and Agamben and shattering the frames of cultural relativism that have limited some recent queer and postcolonial scholarship. . . . Jacob’s monograph stands both as a remarkably original study of the gendering of colonial modernity and as an innovative contribution to theories of subjectivity.” — Paul Amar, Social History

Working Out Egypt is based on extensive archival research and a wide array of materials including British and Egyptian official documents, Olympic archives, biographies, magazine and newspaper articles, letters from readers and advice columns, novels, films, postcards, cartoons, and photographs. The book is framed by an equally impressive range of scholarly debates on empire, postcoloniality, nationalism, modernity, orientalism, liberalism, subject-formation, gender and sexuality, historiography, and representation…. This is a rich and multilayered book whose queries into the aporias of modern subjectivity have implications and relevance that extend beyond the case of modern Egypt. It will be an extremely valuable text to students as well as teachers of colonialism, postcoloniality, modernity, gender, and sexuality.” — Nadia Guessous, Journal of Middle East Women's Studies

“Wilson Chacko Jacob’s insightful and analytically rich book... draws from Foucault’s later work to explore how caring for the self played a transformative role in constituting a new political subject in modern Egypt…. The novelty and sophistication of Working Out Egypt, however, lies not only in its bringing together of subject formation, the body, and masculinity. The book’s virtues also lie in its willingness to explore an understudied and underappreciated subject matter: modern sports and physical culture. Jacob illustrates that taking sports and physical culture seriously can provide a novel approach to the discourse of masculinity and its institutionalization.” — Murat Cihan Yildiz, Arab Studies Journal

“Through his impeccable research, meticulous footnotes, and complex theoretical interventions…, Jacob has animated and enriched studies of Middle East masculinity in an unprecedented manner.” — Hibba Abugideiri, American Historical Review

Working Out Egypt stands as an innovative book on a central theme (masculinity) in postcolonial gender/sexuality studies…[A] highly successful effort that goes a long way toward diversifying scholarship on the colonial period in the Middle East and North Africa.”  — Mehmet Karabela, Canadian Journal of History

“Greater than the sum of its parts, Working Out Egypt stands as a fine-grained cultural history of colonial masculinity, a crucial reading for scholars of the Middle East at large.” — Daniel Monterescu, Comparative Studies in Society and History

Working Out Egypt maps out new territories in gender history….He carefully builds a litany of questions – about the location of universal subjects within the historiographically dominant narratives of anti-imperial struggles, about the embeddedness of the history of modernity in the Arab world within the more inclusive story of colonial modernity – and by explicitly steering away from conclusions, leaves them unanswered but productively problematised.” — Nariman Youssef, Gender & History

"The book is a valuable contribution to the growing scholarship on masculinities in the Middle East, a field that has been markedly under-researched partly because of the over-emphasis on what has been called the woman question in postcolonial settings, and partly as a consequence of a theoretical bias to so-called women’s issues in gender studies in general, a lacuna that is now in the process of revision. It also raises important questions regarding the politics of naming and representation.",  — Hoda Elsadda, Victorian Studies

Working Out Egypt is an extraordinarily accomplished book. Wilson Chacko Jacob offers a highly original history of effendi masculinity based on a sophisticated interpretation of a vast, multisited archive. His analysis speaks directly to a number of concerns animating not only history but also feminist, cultural, and postcolonial studies. It encompasses colonial modernity and Egyptian specificity, masculinity and the quest for a normative social/sexual order, print culture and its collision with imperial globality, and the performative processes through which nations and their national imaginaries unfold.” — Antoinette Burton, author of Empire in Question: Reading, Writing, and Teaching British Imperialism

“This is a pioneering book that probes the relationship between colonialism, nationalism, and masculinity in fresh and exciting ways. Through a careful examination of Egyptian and British popular and political culture of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, Wilson Chacko Jacob tells a complex story of how Egyptian national subjectivity was crafted with and against colonial tropes. Working Out Egypt is essential reading for scholars and students of history, postcoloniality, sexuality, gender, subject formation, and Middle East studies.” — Saba Mahmood, author of Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject


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Price: $30.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Wilson Chacko Jacob is an Assistant Professor of History at Concordia University, Montreal.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Note on Transliteration ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1. Imagination: Projecting British Masculinity 27

2. Genealogy: Mustafa Kamil and Effendi Masculinity 44

3. Institution: Physical Culture and Self-Government 65

4. Association: Scouting, Freedom, Violence 92

5. Games: International Culture and Desiring Bodies 125

6. Communication: Sex, Gender, and Norms of Physical Culture 156

7. Fashion: Global Affects of Colonial Modernity 186

8. Knowledge: Death, Life, and the Sovereign Other 225

Notes 263

Bibliography 359

Index 409
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4674-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4662-3
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