- Fellowship Dates 2012-2012
- Research Topic The Scales of Public Utility: Agrarian Transformation and Colonial Rule in Egypt, 1882-1922
- Fellow or Grant Type Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
- Affiliation Pre-doctoral candidate New York University
In March 1889, Ali Pasha Mubarak, the great civil engineer of Egypt’s Khedival era, wrote to the Council of Ministers to comment on new plans to build a network of “agricultural roads” across the countryside. He affirmed the project as “a work of general interest” but questioned the logic of Egypt’s British “advisors” in assuming the sole authority for plotting the new routes and assigning the total burden of funding them to the specific localities through which those roads would run. Instead, he argued, mutual interest should dictate shared responsibility between central and local authorities.
This research explores the changing nature of the Egyptian state in the four decades between the British invasion of 1882 and the unilateral declaration of independence in 1922. It builds on approaches that dominate existing studies and reduce colonial rule to a binary opposition between subjective and objective historical transformations. This research elaborates a new approach. It characterizes the late nineteenth century as a period of dramatic financial expansion. It suggests that strategies of capital accumulation were, in fact, changing in this period and engages recent theorizations of the modern state and state space. This study bridges the gap between materialist and discursive accounts of colonial rule and draws inspiration from recent work on the social history of modern concepts and categories. The study traces the emergence of “public utility” (al-manafi‘ al-‘umumiyya) as a central organizing concept of the Egyptian state. These projects, evaluated through new abstract measures of public utility, employed various state capacities to improve flows of water, goods, law, credit and knowledge throughout the Egyptian country. Yet, such efforts to project state power on a national scale depended crucially upon the reconstitution of village authorities as local agents of the central state. Ultimately, this process resulted not merely in new forms of state power but also in the emergence of new ideas about the relationship of Egypt’s political subjects to the state and to each other.