How can we better understand the world we live in? Not only here in Europe, but also in many Arab countries, many people don't know what anthropology is and how it can provide them with new perspectives. What to do? In the beginning, there were blogs. Now other kind of media have become popular: podcasts, video channels and shows.
MadaMasr, my favorite Egyptian news site and magazin, interviews anthropologist Mai Amer, who has created of a new show titled Tuk Tuk (El Tok Tok in Arabic). Her aim is to make anthropological concepts more accessible for a wider Arabic speaking audience. The show is published on Facebook and produced by Al-Nahda Scientific and Cultural Association.
Three episodes are so far available: a short introduction to anthropology, discussions about the issue of women’s bodies and how culture defines the standards of femininity (including what women should or shouldn’t wear) and a episode about men’s bodies (particularly the use of Viagra and Tramadol). The next episodes will be about social media, popular religious imaginary and mahraganat - popular Egyptian dance music which is Mai Amer's special field: She wrote her master’s thesis about Mahraganat songs.
The idea sounds brilliant. She explains in this interview:
This season, I hope the show does exactly what the tuk tuk does: you get on and from your seat you watch everything going on outside in that neighborhood you don’t know, while the driver knows everyone and keeps greeting people he passes by. And you’re discovering all this from the perspective of your seat in the tuk tuk — not your car or an Uber with the windows rolled up. The tuk tuk means you’re part of the street.
I also like her definition and view about anthropology. Its role is for her to help us understand “where we stand in life: who exploits us, who we exploit, when we are performing and who we are performing to, and when other people are performing for us.” She wants us to "reflect on and critiquing certain things they think, say or do by posing questions or opening up ideas for discussion":
We usually go through life with pre-made judgments, deeply rooted biases and values instilled by the social class in which we were raised. We’re unaware of our privileges, unaware of others’ privileges, and we’re oblivious to our prejudices and how they affect our everyday behavior.
We don’t realize we are prisoners of ourselves and of our class. So as members of the middle class for instance, we are convinced that rich people are corrupt, the poor are kind, and those who live in the slums are criminals, and so on. We don’t stop to think how the thoughts that were planted in our subconscious so long ago affect our behavior and our whole perspective of life.
What anthropology does is it reveals all of this to us; how such processes take place. It helps us figure out where we stand in life: who exploits us, who we exploit, when we are performing and who we are performing to, and when other people are performing for us.
In this interview with Mada Masr journalist Mostafa Mohie she also mentions other initiatives that inspired her, among others Qira2at — by Amr Khairy who publishes Arabic translations of important texts in the humanities and social sciences, and another show on Facebook called Anthropology in Arabic by by Farah Halaba.
Mai Amer is currently working on her PhD on gender in pop songs
PS: My Arabic is too poor to understand anything serious, so I am just referring to the Mada Masr interview here.