Samuli Schielke – Age and Generation

The Dream of Stability: Egyptian migrations and homes in the age of growth

Dozent Dr. Samuli Schielke

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 actualize conventional ways and ideas of a good life. Generational continuity and reproduction are central to such dreams of a normal life. 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. “Stability” (istiqrar) describes the dream of completing these steps and being able to rest. Those steps reproduce moral ideals of the society, and yet their completion under conditions of growth and mobility also results in social change from one generation to another.

This project follows trajectories of men and fewer women from northern Egypt to sites of migration in Arab Gulf states (especially Dubai) and in Europe. Much of their home region will become uninhabitable by the end of the 21st century due to climate change. At the same time, most of them invest their savings into homes in their regions of origin. Aim of this project is to understand how people from regions like northern Egypt live with such and other contradictions that they cannot solve. At the focus of inquiry are three complications: To build a good life at home, it is often necessary migrate; stability in a capitalist economy requires growth, which is an unstable state; and spiritual, moral and economic values and strivings are part of the same reality but often cannot be reconciled.

The first phase of the project was funded by Fritz Thyssen Foundation from 2020 to 2022. The second phase since 2023 aims at the completion of two peer-reviewed articles and a monography with the title The Dream of Stability. Structured in four parts, the book follows the movement of people from rural regions into urban careers; the predicament and opportunities of migrant jobseekers in Dubai during the Covid-19 pandemic; the moral binary between a family home in one’s region of origin and the migrant accommodation; and the dialectic relation between spectacular accomplishments and the unacknowledged work, energy, and parallel lives that are necessary to generate them. This dialectic emerges as a key means of living with unsolved conflicts.

Photos from the Field


Samuli Schielke. 2020. Migrant Dreams: Egyptian Workers in the Gulf States. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.