Age and Generation

The Search for a Normal Life

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. 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 unsettled by the virtue of its own success. A second phase of the project will therefore focus on intergenerational trajectories of social mobility.