2007 Joint Winner

Markets of Dispossession

NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in Cairo

by Julia Elyachar

Julia Elyachar, University of California, Irvine. “Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in Cairo.” 2005, Duke University Press.

Prize Committee

Jacqueline Solway (chair), Richard Handler and Rosemary Coombe.

From the Publisher

What happens when the market tries to help the poor? In many parts of the world today, neo-liberal development programs are offering ordinary people the tools of free enterprise as the means to well-being and empowerment. Schemes to transform the poor into small-scale entrepreneurs promise them the benefits of the market and access to the rewards of globalization. “Markets of Dispossession” is a theoretically sophisticated and sobering account of the consequences of these initiatives. Julia Elyachar studied the efforts of bankers, social scientists, NGO members, development workers, and state officials to turn the craftsmen and unemployed youth of Cairo into the vanguard of a new market society based on micro-enterprise. She considers these efforts in relation to the alternative notions of economic success held by craftsmen in Cairo, in which short-term financial profit was not highly valued. Through her careful ethnography of workshop life, Elyachar explains how the traditional market practices of craftsmen were among the most vibrant modes of market life in Egypt. Long condemned as backward, these existing market practices were seized on by social scientists and development institutions as the raw materials for experiments in “free market” expansion. Elyachar argues that the new economic value accorded to the cultural resources and social networks of the poor fuelled a broader process of their economic, social, and cultural dispossession. Julia Elyachar is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Anthropological and Spatial Studies in the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana, Slovenia.