Disciplining the male body: violence, class and masculinity in Egyptian schools

Hania Sobhy

Among a number of familiar tropes, Arab men are especially associated with violence in popular discourses in the West. This project does not seek to uncover the orientalist, colonial or geopolitical drivers of these stereotypes, although it is critical to explore and appreciate them. My interest is also not in adjudicating on whether or how Arab men are indeed violent compared to other constructed categories of men. Rather, drawing upon my extended work with youth in Egypt, my aim is to explore the meanings and implications of the key observation that, in the public sphere, young men are in fact the primary recipients of sustained and varied forms of violence. I make no claim that my findings apply to some entity called ‘Arab men’. I do however emphasize that understanding the forms of violence, precariousness and waithood faced by young men around the world is critical for any appreciation of their use of violence and of a host of other associated behaviours, emotions and choices. It is equally critical for understanding wider social processes, gender relations and indeed the conditions facing young women, including their exposure to violence by men (both in the public and private spheres). The forms of violence that young men face do not start or end at home, on the street, in the labor market, in encounters with the police or indeed in prison. Sometimes, the most extended exposure to violence (and the most sustained training in violence) for young men occurs during their years of formal education. The forms of violence found in schools can be both physical and emotional, and usually occur together, with far reaching individual, gendered and social repercussions. Gendered violence in schools remains however understudied and far less integrated in understandings of the changing pressures facing men in neoliberal, securitized and precarious global contexts.

Physical and emotional violence (beating and humiliation) has been on the rise in Egyptian schools in recent decades. It has become commonplace to encounter news reports about a teacher using a Taser to punish a student or engaging in an altercation that results in a broken arm. These sensational cases that receive media coverage in fact obscure the reality of the normalized daily violence experienced especially by male students and administered primarily by male teachers. This exploration draws on the findings of extensive research with young men and women in Egyptian schools catering to different social classes over the past decade. Most of the ethnographic research was conducted in six boys and girls secondary schools Cairo from 2008 to 2010. The main research themes were revisited in intensive qualitative fieldwork in 2016 and 2017 and follow-up rounds of interviews in 2018 and 2019. While referring to the experience of students in private schools (representing less than 10% of students) and to the experience of girls, the project is mainly focused on the experience of boys in public schools. The project provides an overview of the issues around violent punishment in schools globally and in Egypt. It describes the gendered and classed forms of punishment practiced in these Cairene schools; situating their purposes, drivers and consequences of these forms of punishment, outlining their intersections with class and masculinity and assessing whether and how these patterns have changed since the 2011 Uprising in Egypt.

Go to Editor View