L.L. Wynn’s book Love, Sex, and Desire in Modern Egypt: Navigating the Margins of Respectability
(University of Texas Press) is an interrogation of urban life and gendered mobilities in Cairo, Egypt. She discusses categories of kinship, tourism, friendship, love, and sex through the lens of “respectability”; and in the process illustrates how “respectability” itself is an unstable category. Not only does it mean different things to different people, it is also something that people (men and women) don’t inherently possess and with which they must continuously grapple.
Methodologically the book delineates the political stakes of writing about these categories in a space like Egypt, especially since the discourses of orientalism that frame these categories have had violent political implications. Wynn also critically positions herself within the text and constantly analyzes her own presence in the “field”. She visibly struggles with the category of “respectability” as it, inconsistently, applies to her.
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.
These affective and intimate economies become sites of speculating about “respectability” and judging people’s commitment to love. Money is exchanged and circulates just as words do in the form of gossip or the way people “talk” and the urbality of Cairo becomes unimaginable without thinking about love, sex, desire and violence, that co-exist in complex ways.
L. L. Wynn
is an associate professor and head of the Anthropology Department at Macquarie University.
This interview is part of an NBN special series on "Mobilities and Methods
Lakshita Malik is a doctoral student in the department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her work focuses on questions of intimacies, class, gender, and beauty in South Asia.