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American Ethnologist

Phatic labor, infrastructure, and the question of empowerment in Cairo

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ABSTRACT

In this article, I draw on ethnographic research in Cairo to analyze outcomes of Egyptian women's practices of sociality. In Cairo, “phatic labor” creates a social infrastructure of communicative channels that are as essential to economy as roads, bridges, or telephone lines. Projects to empower Egyptian women via finance made these communicative channels visible as an economic infrastructure for projects oriented around the pursuit of profit. A social infrastructure that had functioned as a kind of semiotic commons became visible as a resource that could be privatized or formatted as a public good.

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