My current research circles around questions about personal trajectories, class and global inequality, morality and religion, as well as the relationship between intimate lives, literary imagination, political economy, and moral strivings. I'm also interested in the relationship between destiny and freedom, and in general I'm curious about contradictions, ambiguities and shifts in humans' social and intimate lives. I'm interested in understanding government from the point of view of the governed, and powerful discourses from the point of view of living a life marked by them. The concrete topics I am currently looking at include migration and work, love and marriage, moral and political conflicts and ambiguities, the way humans relate with God and destiny, and most importantly the following two:
The Search for a Normal Life
At the heart of this project is a central paradox of the age of globalisation: the possibility of a stable, normal life at home relies on destabilising processes of growth, expansion, and mobility. Rural-urban and international migrations in and from the Global South are often socially conservative projects: strivings to actualise conventional ways and ideas of a good life. They are grounded in the imagination and practice of what in Arabic is widely referred to as “a normal life” (hayah 'adiya), “a life worthy of humans” (hayat bani adamin), or “stability” (istiqrar). Generational continuity and reproduction are central to such dreams of a normal life. This project follows trajectories of men from a rural region in northern Egypt that will become uninhabitable by the end of the 21st century due to climate change. The research accompanies them along a trans-local migratory network stretching to Egyptian cities, western Europe, and Arab Gulf states where they work to build the means of a normal, settled adulthood at home. Becoming an adult man in Egypt is a path of largely pre-determined steps such as financial independence, housing, marriage, offspring, and their education. This is the prime nexus of social reproduction, and at the same time also the context where generational shifts and transformations are likely to occur.
The first phase of the project, which is funded by Fritz Thyssen Foundation from 2020 to 2021, focusses on their efforts to build houses in their regions of origin. These houses unite strivings for moral and material comfort, upward social mobility, and rootedness in local communities. And yet the builders of these houses often only live in them during vacations. They dwell and raise their children in cities that gradually may become their homes as well. In the process, their dream of a good, normal life at home appears to be unsettling itself by the virtue of its own success.
Key publication from this project:
Samuli Schielke. 2020. Migrant Dreams: Egyptian Workers in the Gulf States. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.
The Writing of Lives
Writing poetry, prose and semi-literary texts is a fairly common activity among Egyptians who have received higher education, although the readership of fiction is very low. After 2011, such writing has become much more visible as many people have started writing or have started publishing online what they would have previously kept for themselves. Following the lives and works of writers in different milieus in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, this research project looks at the practice, social conditions and possible consequences of literary writing from a long-term biographical perspective. Connecting literary works, their themes and their styles with questions of sociality, personal idiosyncrasies, political and social context, livelihoods and economy, the project is also an attempt to develop a non-reductionist understanding of imagination, cultural production, material conditions, relations of production and social change on the same analytical plane. The research, which is based on shared fieldwork with the Alexandrian novelist Mukhtar Saad Shehata, has a strongly collaborative aspect, debating and developing these theoretical directions in dialogue with the writers involved. Research for this project was concluded with the end of 2019.
Key publication from this project:
Samuli Schielke and Mukhtar Saad Shehata. 2021. Shared Margins: An Ethnography with Writers in Alexandria after the Revolution. (ZMO Studien; 41) Berlin: De Gruyter. (OPEN ACCESS)
2021, Shared Margins: An Ethnography with Writers in Alexandria after the Revolution. (ZMO Studien, vol 41) with Mukhtar Saad Shehata Berlin: De Gruyter
2020, Migrant Dreams: Egyptian Workers in the Gulf States. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.
2017, حتى ينتهي النفط: الهجرة والأحلام في ضواحي الخليج (Until the end of oil: Migration and dreams in the suburbs of the Gulf; in Arabic). Transl. Amr Khairy. Cairo: Al-Sifsafa. [*Arabic Translation of an earlier manuscript version of Migrant Dreams].
2015, Egypt in the Future Tense: Hope, Frustration and Ambivalence, Before and After 2011. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
2012, The Perils of Joy: Contesting Mulid Festivals in Contemporary Egypt, Syracuse, NY.: Syracuse University Press.
2011, هتتأخر على الثورة! دفتر يونيات عالم أنثروبولوجيا شهد الثورة (You’ll be late for the revolution: The diary of an anthropologist who witnessed the revolution; in Arabic), transl. Amr Khairy, Cairo: al-Nafisa li-l-‘ulum wa-l-adab.
2013, Daniela Swarowsky, Samuli Schielke, Andrea Heister (eds.). In Search of Europe? Art and Research in Collaboration: An Experiment. Heijningen: Jap Sam.
2013, Susanne Dahlgren and Samuli Schielke (eds.). Special issue “Moral Ambiguities and Muslim Lives.” Contemporary Islam7, 1.
2012, Knut Graw and Samuli Schielke (eds.). The Global Horizon: Expectations of Migration in Africa and the Middle East. Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven.
2012, Samuli Schielke and Liza Debevec (eds.). Ordinary Lives and Grand Schemes: An Anthropology of Everyday Religion. New York: Berghahn.
2020. “Where is Alexandria? Myths of the city and the anti-city after cosmopolitanism.” In: Hilal Alkan and Nazan Maksudyan (eds.), Urban Neighbourhood Formations: Materialities, Networks and Contested Places. London: Routledge.
2020, “A bigger prison: Egyptian migrations and the experience of limited movement.” Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 44, 2: 40-58.
2019, “Is prose poetry a conspiracy against the Noble Qurʼan? Poetics, humans and God in contemporary Egypt.” Historical Social Research 44, 3: 101–126.
2019, “The power of God: Four proposals for an anthropological engagement.” ZMO Programmatic Texts 13.
2018, Schielke, Samuli. "Islam. Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Anthropology."
2018, “A city of walls: A photo essay on writing on walls in Alexandria, 2011-2017.” Égypte Monde Arabe17 (special issue “Everyday Alexandria,” ed. by Youssef El Chazli): 157–193.
2017, “There will be blood: Expectation and ethics of violence during Egypt's stormy season.” Middle Eastern Critique26, 3: 205–220, DOI: 10.1080/19436149.2017.1336023
2016, Samuli Schielke and Mukhtar Saad Shehata. “The Writing of Lives: An ethnography of writers and their milieus in Alexandria.” ZMO Working Papers 17.
2012, “Being a non-believer in a time of Islamic revival: Trajectories of doubt and certainty in contemporary Egypt,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 44, 2: 301–320.
2012, “Living in the Future Tense: Aspiring for world and class in provincial Egypt”, in The Global Middle Class: Theorizing through Ethnography, Carla Freeman, Rachel Heiman, and Mark Liechty (eds.), Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, pp. 31–56.
2009, “Ambivalent commitments: Troubles of morality, religiosity and aspiration among young Egyptians,” Journal of Religion in Africa39, 2: 158–185.
2009, “Being good in Ramadan: Ambivalence, fragmentation and the moral self in the lives of young Egyptians,”Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute15, S1: S24–S40.
2008, “Policing Ambiguity: Muslim saints-day festivals and the moral geography of public space in Egypt,” American Ethnologist35, 4: 539–552.
2008, “Boredom and Despair in Rural Egypt,” Contemporary Islam2, 3: 251–270.
2019, “Wie, es gab eine Revolution? Niederlage, Mythenbildung und Fortsetzung in Ägypten nach 2011.” In: Martin Sabrow (ed.), Revolution! Verehrt - verhasst - vergessen (Helmstedter Colloquien; 21). Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag.
2016, “أين تقع الإسكندرية؟ أساطير المدينة والمدينة النقيض في العصر ما بعد الكوزمزوبوليتانية” [Where is Alexandria? Myths of the City and the Anti-City after Cosmopolitanism; in Arabic] Translated by Abdelrehim Youssef. Tara al-Bahr 3: 12–27. [*Arabic Translation of an unpublished manuscript version of “Where is Alexandria”(accepted for publication peer reviewed article)]
2015. “In defence of our universal double standards.” Allegra Lab, 7 December.
2015. “Living with unresolved differences: Reply to Fadil and Fernando.” HAU: Journal for Ethnographic Theory vol. 5, nr. 2, 89–92.
2011-2014. “You’ll be late for the revolution!” - An Anthropologist’s Diary of the Egyptian Revolution and What Followed. Blog, 30 January 2011 – 3 June 2013.
2012. Samuli Schielke and Aymon Kreil, "عيد الحب في مصر: قراءة في الجدل الديني والثقافي" [Valentine's Day in Egypt: A study in the religious and cultural debate; in Arabic] (Marasid: kurrasat ‘ilmiya; vol. 7), Alexandria: Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
2010. “Second thoughts about the anthropology of Islam, or how to make sense of grand schemes in everyday life.” ZMO Working Papers 2, http://www.zmo.de/publikationen/WorkingPapers/schielke_2010.pdf
2009. “The Provinces, the Capital of Cairo”, in Cairoscape: Images, Imagination and Imaginary of a Contemporary Mega City, Marina Sorbello and Antje Weitzel (eds.), Berlin: Argobooks.
-العاصمة السرية The Secret Capital. Documentary film by Mukhtar Shehata and Samuli Schielke. Egypt 2013, 28 min.
الناحية التانية The Other Side. Short film by Mukhtar Shehata and Samuli Schielke. Egypt/the Netherlands 2010.
Messages from Paradise #1: Egypt-Austria: About the Permanent Longing for Elsewhere. Idea Daniela Swarowsky, direction/camera/sound Daniela Swarowsky and Samuli Schielke, interviews Samuli Schielke, editing Arthur Bueno. Austria/the Netherlands 2009.
“In Search of Europe? Equals in an Unequal World.” Head of research; participation with materials and photographs. Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin, 2 November 2013 – 12 January 2014.
“الحيطة” (The Wall). El Dokan, Alexandria, 12 March - 6 April 2012.
“المواطنون” (The Citizens). With Basem Abu Gweili. El-Nahda scientific and cultural renaissance association, Cairo, 2008 and El Dokan, Alexandria, March 2010.
Participation in the photo exhibition “Van Gastarbeider tot Allochtoon” (from migrant worker to allochtonous) with the photo series “Marokkaan in het Oude Noorden” (Moroccan in Oude Noorden), commissioned by Daniela Swarowsky and ZIM (Zwaanshals in Motion), Rotterdam 22 April - 30 June 2006.
Photo exhibition “Frommigheid en Plezier” (Piety and fun), ZiM (Zwaanshals in Motion), Rotterdam 29 April – 13 May 2005.
"The power of God: Four proposals for anthropological engagement.” Keynote lecture at the workshop The 'Ethical' and the 'everyday': Interrogating Analytical Turns for/in the Study of Islam and Muslims in Europe, Woolf Institute, Cambridge, 29-30 November 2018.
“Secular Powers and Heretic Undercurrents in a God-Fearing World: The Case of Egypt and the Middle East.” Keynote lecture at the Nonreligion+Secularity Research Network biannual conference, King's College London, 5-6 July 2018.
“قصة علم الإنسان” (The story of anthropology). Zomra cultural salon, Jesuit cultural centre, Alexandria, 20 February 2017.
“Stability as a utopia: Revisiting Egyptian youth as they grow older, and the future tense as time passes.” Aarhus University, 21 September 2016.
“Dreaming of the inevitable: How money, morals and destiny come together when young Egyptians search for love and marriage.” Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations, Boston University, 8 February 2016
“Anthropology of and for revolutions.” Plenary presentation at EASA Biennial Conference, Tallinn, 1 August 2014.
“On Freedom, Destiny, and Consequences.” Social Anthropology Senior Research Seminar, University of Cambridge, 16 May 2014.
“The Secret Capitals: The Egyptian Countryside after the Revolution.” With Mukhtar Shehata. Images of Resistance in the New Middle East, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo, 19 April 2013.
“Egypt Now: Fantasy, Action, and the Possible.” University of North Carolina Charlotte, 6 December 2011.
“Valta, Normaalius, Vallankumous” (Power, Normality, Revolution). Finnish Anthropological Association, Helsinki 8 February 2011; Tampere University, Tampere (Finland) 15 February 2011.
New Book Network: Migrant Dreams - Egyptian Workers in the Gulf States, Von Samuli Schielke, 22.06.2021.
DW: عندي حكاية - صامولي شيلكه: باحث أنثروبولوجي مولع بمصر, Interview mit Samuli Schielke, 16.05.2021.
zenith: Es geht nicht um Hass. Von Samuli Schielke, 18. Juli 2018.
Al-Monitor: Egypt's millennials turn to Sufism. Von Yasmin El-Beih mit Samuli Schielke, 11. Juli 2018.
Cairo Observer: In Love With The Ugly Face Of Alexandria. Von Samuli Schielke, 23. Februar 2017.
Al Araby TV: عصير الكتب│ لقاء مع الباحث وعالم الاجتماع الفنلندي صامولي شيلكه | الجزء الثاني[Gespräch mit dem Sozialwissenschaftler Samuli Schielke bei ‘Aseer al-Kutub, 2 Teile; auf Arabisch]. Gespräch von Belal Fadl mit Samuli Schielke, 30. Dezember 2017. Teil 1 | Teil 2.
Zenith: Keine Tränen für Rabea. Wie konnte es zu der entgrenzten Gewalt im Sommer 2013 kommen? Essay von Samuli Schielke, Ausgabe 03/2015.
RadioEins: Ägypten: Was wird aus dem Protest? Interview mit Samuli Schielke, 8. Februar 2011.
Deutschlandradio: Ägyptische "Gerontokratie" am Ende. Interview mit Samuli Schielke von Dieter Kassel, 7. Februar 2011.
YLE TV1: TV-Uutiset. Interview mit Samuli Schielke, 3. Februar 2011.
- European Association of Social Anthropologists
- German Anthropological Association
- Finnish Anthropological Association
- Finnish: Native
- German: Full fluency
- English: Full fluency
- Arabic: Full fluency
- Dutch: Upper intermediacy
- French: Basic to intermediate
- Swedish: Basic to intermediate