Challenging ethnographic theorists like Claude Lévi-Strauss, L.L. Wynn’s “Love, Sex, and Desire in Modern Egypt: Navigating the Margins of Respectability” (University of Texas Press, 2018) considers aspects of love and desire often overlooked by theorists when describing kinship structures. Wynn focuses on 21st century Cairenes in her book, with research collected from 2000-2015 on middle- to upper-class men and women, predominantly heterosexual, and conversations overheard in Arabic.
Female respectability and male honor come to the forefront of this study as Wynn observes behaviors akin to a “scanning of signs.” This is shown candidly when her acquaintances perceive a woman’s respectability rating through her dress, make-up, gestures, and implied social class while sitting at a table. As she notes, “Egyptian women in pursuit of love and desire deftly navigate, manipulate, and defy moralizing cultural norms that penalize women who have sex outside marriage as unrespectable social pariahs, even as they applaud for their virility men who do so.”’ In the words of the reviewer, “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.”
“The Scanning of Signs: 'Love, Sex, and Desire in Modern Egypt: Navigating the Margins of Respectability,’” reviewed by Pamela Nice, is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Al Jadid, Vol. 24, No. 78, 2020.
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