World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


A Social Sciences Approach to Alexandrian Cosmopolitanism: Stakes and Limits (265) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 5.00-7.00 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Université de Lyon ENS Lettres et Sciences Humaines (France)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Frédéric Abecassis

· NOT_DEFINED language: English/Français

· NOT_DEFINED description: A social sciences approach to Alexandrian cosmopolitanism: stakes and limits In the collective imagery, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Alexandria ‘seaport for trade and city of exchanges and encounters’ was the object of multiple representations and nourished the myth of cosmopolitanism. Since the 1980s historians have criticized the notion of cosmopolitanism as a harmonious cohabitation of different communities. The consideration of socioeconomic cleavages justifies in fact the reflection on a plurality of cosmopolitanisms. The works of Ilbert, Fahmy, Volait, Alleaume and Abécassis, to name a few, broadened the field investigating Alexandria as a Mediterranean trade centre, a city within the emerging modern Egyptian state in its territorial definition, experiencing a colonial situation and the rise of nationalisms. The assumption at the basis of this panel is the existence of a crucial moment in Alexandrian historiography represented by the deconstruction of an idealized cosmopolitanism. This discussion aims at proposing an actualised approach to the historical validity and scientific legitimacy of ‘cosmopolitanism’. The relevance and usefulness of the concept in the historical investigation of Alexandria is questioned through four contributions focusing on multiple sources. They are oriented by two sets of questions: does the notion of cosmopolitanism clarify social dynamics or confuse them? Which are the approaches validating its use as a positive, operating concept? This panel intends to show a dynamic field whose research questions and methodologies inherited the issues of the previous work of deconstruction. According to it, every contribution aims at investigating a specific fragment, analysing the various notions that are inherent in the concept of cosmopolitanism (the cosmopolitan city, the figure of the migrant etc.) and positioning itself on the different fields of its expression. Literary sources are investigated in order to discuss the construction of cosmopolitanism as a concept, as well as its use in Alexandrian cultural milieus. The technical and professional education and the role it plays in the city are analysed with the aim of contributing to a socioeconomic history of Alexandria. The dialectical relation between integration and segregation is taken into account by two contributions involving the urban area and focusing on the migrant settlement process both in the peripheral zones and in the central one.

Chair: Frédéric Abecassis (Université de Lyon ENS Lettres et Sciences Humaines)

Paper presenter: Elena Chiti (Iremam, Aix-en-Provence), “Literary productions and the construction of 'cosmopolitanism'”
Numbers of researches discuss the scientific legitimacy of cosmopolitanism in the approach to Alexandrian social history. Cosmopolitanism is defined as a reality experienced, or a discourse produced, by the socio-cultural urban elite. But did the urban elite, at the beginning of the XX century, explicitly talk about cosmopolitanism? And in which terms? This contribution examines a set of fiction and nonfiction texts of the epoch, essentially novels and guides, written by private or public Alexandrian actors (intellectuals, novelists, Municipality). It aims at contributing to the historiographical debate on cosmopolitanism through the perspective of cultural productions history, and through the analysis of Alexandrian intellectual life and public discourse.

Paper presenter: Anna Laura Turiano (Iremam, Aix-en-Provence), “Vocational training and urban economic activities”
Researches on Alexandrian schools focused on the most prestigious establishments specialized in elite’s education. This contribution presents the analysis of Technical and Vocational Don Bosco Institute from 1930 to 1950. It aims at proposing new reflections on a scarcely investigated education pattern, the technical and vocational secondary education, and its role in the Alexandrian economic context. Through multiple sources (archives documents and oral sources), I intend to analyze, on the one hand, an education pattern aiming at creating new know-hows; on the other, I intend to discuss urban economic activities linked to technical professions.

Paper presenter: Charlotte Deweerdt (Iremam, Aix-en-Provence), “Urban appropriation and new readings of 'neighborhood'”
I chose to focus on a micro-aerea, which is a highly stratified zone between the so-called « European » and « Turkish » cities and whose centrality was determined during the first half of the nineteenth century. This area is located in the peninsula where foreign migrants of popular origin, the bulk of immigration to Alexandria from the 1870s, settled down. This contribution involves as a source two insurance plans (of 1885 and 1905) which offer, on the one hand, the possibility of measurement (stating the property boundaries on the ground at the plot level, as well as the owners? names); on the other, the possibility of a diachronical analysis. The investigation of the new urban setting and access to real property allows a new reading of ‘neighborhood’ and urban appropriation.

Paper presenter: Mélanie Henry (Université de Provence, Aix-en-Provence), “The industrial suburb: place identity and workers history”
My research object is primarily a strip of land limited by the Lake Mariut and the sea, from Alexandria West Harbour to Agami Fort, and occupied by four villages - Gabbâry, Wardyân, Mex et Dakhyla. A resort place for Alexandrian elites during the nineteenth century, this area turns into an industrial suburb in the twentieth. The investigation of Corporations Office and Chambers of Commerce funds is a valuable tool for reconstructing phases and ways of the setting of industrial activity in the area: which is an essential condition to approach workers history without forgetting place identity. Does the village disappear under Alexandria attractive force? Do workers solidarity bonds integrate village solidarity? Do the different communities play a role in this process?