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Love, Sex, and Desire in Modern Egypt

Love, Sex, and Desire in Modern Egypt
Navigating the Margins of Respectability

Combining vivid stories of love affairs with classic anthropological theories of kinship, gift-giving, and honor, this rich ethnography documents how ideals of relationships and respectability clash with the reality of life in modern Cairo.

November 2018
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256 pages | 6 x 9 | Hardcover has a printed case, no dust jacket |

Cairo is a city obsessed with honor and respectability—and love affairs. Sara, a working-class woman, has an affair with a married man and becomes pregnant, only to be abandoned by him; Ayah and Zeid, a respectably engaged couple, argue over whether Ayah’s friend is a prostitute or a virgin; Malak, a European belly dancer who sometimes gets paid for sex, wants to be loved by a man who won’t treat her like a whore just because she’s a dancer; and Alia, a Christian banker who left her abusive husband, is the mistress of a wealthy Muslim man, Haroun, who encourages business by hosting risqué parties for other men and their mistresses.

Set in transnational Cairo over two decades, Love, Sex, and Desire in Modern Egypt is an ethnography that explores female respectability, male honor, and Western theories and fantasies about Arab society. L. L. Wynn uses stories of love affairs to interrogate three areas of classic anthropological theory: mimesis, kinship, and gift. She develops a broad picture of how individuals love and desire within a cultural and political system that structures the possibilities of, and penalties for, going against sexual and gender norms. Wynn demonstrates that love is at once a moral horizon, an attribute that “naturally” inheres in particular social relations, a social phenomenon strengthened through cultural concepts of gift and kinship, and an emotion deeply felt and desired by individuals.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Foreigners Like Things Looking Old and Dark, Not Shiny
  • Chapter 2. Mimesis, Kinship, Gift, and Other Things That Bind Us in Love and Desire
  • Chapter 3. “Why Can’t You Study Respectable Women?”
  • Chapter 4. Mimesis, Genre, Gender, and Sexuality in Middle East Tourism
  • Chapter 5. Demimonde: Belly Dancers, Extramarital Affairs, and the Respectability of Women
  • Chapter 6. Gift, Prostitute: Money and Intimacy
  • Chapter 7. “Honor Killing”: On Anthropological Writing in an International Political Economy of Representations
  • Chapter 8. Kinship, Honor, and Shame
  • Chapter 9. Love, Revolution, and Intimate Violence
  • Epilogue. Fifteen Years Later
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

Sydney, Australia

Wynn is an associate professor and head of the Anthropology Department at Macquarie University. She is the author of Pyramids and Nightclubs: A Travel Ethnography of Arab and Western Imaginations of Egypt, from King Tut and a Colony of Atlantis to Rumors of Sex Orgies, Urban Legends about a Marauding Prince, and Blonde Belly Dancers and coeditor of Abortion Pills, Test Tube Babies, and Sex Toys: Exploring Reproductive and Sexual Technologies in the Middle East and North Africa.


“An important study of double standards in the Arab world.”
The Arab Weekly

“[Love, Sex, and Desire in Modern Egypt] is an ambitious book, and Wynn delivers great theoretical insight…Wynn makes important contributions to anthropological theories of gender and sexuality in the Arab world, as well as sharing rich ethnographic evidence, furthering the diversity of scholarly representations of Middle Eastern women.”
Association for Feminist Anthropology

“Engagingly written, Wynn's study of love, desire, and respectability in Egypt offers important insights for scholars working on these topics and is essential reading for those working on gender and sexuality in the Middle East and North Africa.”
American Anthropologist

“Wynn expertly charts the various ways that Cairene females are assessed as respectable, and how these assessments are internalized, no matter what the woman's class or background…This is an excellent book for anthropology students, especially in its interplay of theoretical and research chapters. It is a guide to the minefields of ethnography and an argument against rigid categories and theories in any field.”
Al Jadid

“An interrogation of urban life and gendered mobilities in Cairo, Egypt...The book’s narrative style and care with which key characters and interlocutors are developed throughout, reiterate Wynn’s dedication to the political stakes of her text. From the antique store owners, workers and tour guides (called tourist hustlers) to belly dancers and university students the ethnography spans a variety of social groups and classes where themes of love, sex, and desire intertwine with the economy such that intimacy and circulation and exchange of money becomes closely tied.”
New Books in Middle Eastern Studies




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3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca