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Department of Architecture


Dr Nicholas Simcik Arese (University Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Cambridge)

In Cairo’s first “affordable” gated community, new homeowners aim to realise middle class aspirations through the promise of US-style propertied spatial norms. This presentation offers an ethnographic account of how homeowners interpret the word “freedom” to describe the isolation of suburban life, at once a “dream” (premised on imaginations of an "internal emigration," outwards and into the future) and an “illusion” (premised on memories of historic Cairo, backwards and into the past). Recent work by anthropologist Talal Asad on post-revolutionary Egypt identifies tension between a “liberal incitement to individual autonomy” and autochthonous notions of freedom – self-realisation through modes of mutuality – resulting in a mass “subjectivization of morality” (2015). I situate these observations in the context of everyday property disputes in a private development for the poorest demographic to benefit from Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian neoliberalism. Soon after moving in, many homeowners’ dreams of severing cumbersome sociality become indivisible from nightmares of extreme subjectivization, at once legible in their physical surroundings: the same garden walls that are embellished for privacy are seen to provoke moral disarray otherwise attributed to inner-city life. Confronting this paradox, some homeowners feel compelled to creatively re-define the relationship between “freedom” and property beyond the paradigms of liberal autonomy and nostalgia.

Facebook event:

Map for event location here

About Nicholas:

Nicholas is an urban ethnographer focused on improvised city planning, property theory, and popular notions of value. He is currently publishing an ethnography on squatters occupying and transforming a gated-community in suburban Cairo since the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Next, he will examine the methods, reception, and impact of companies using big data, drone mapping, and mobile phone applications to facilitate land privatization (and thus also evictions) in Medellin, Colombia. Nicholas is a University Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Cambridge. He was a Postdoctoral Researcher in the School of Anthropology, Oxford, completed a DPhil in Geography at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and studied in Diploma Unit 10 at the Architectural Association.

About the City Seminar:

The City Seminar Series this year, co-hosted by the Department of Geography and the Department of Architecture, will convene around the theme ‘Infrastructures of Memory’. The intention of this series is to explore a variety of techniques, technologies, rituals, performances and materialities of memory and remembrance, and how they may reinforce or subvert prevailing power relations.

More information, including the full term card can be found attached and on the City Seminar Facebook Page.

Tuesday, 6 November, 2018 - 17:30 to 19:00
Event location: 
Lecture Room 1, Department of Architecture