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Colonizing Egypt: A Review on the Methods of Western Imperialism


Colonising Egypt, a work by Timothy Mitchell, observes the process and the resulting consequences of colonialism on three separate stages: that of the world-at-exhibition, the Egyptian city, and the West. Within each instance there is evidence for distinct divisions between the interior, or organized framework, and the exterior, seen as an unsystematic chaos. In a detailed exposition of these different levels of “enframing”, in which order is imposed through division, control, and motivation, Mitchell repositions the study of colonial history.

It is the egocentric European certainty of exhibiting a superior political structure that supposedly allows them to reach out and impose their abstract ideals and physical structures upon a foreign society, since, through events such as world fairs and exhibitions, an understanding of an alien people has already been attained. Life as depicted within these public displays was clearly understood as being nothing more than a mere representation, yet was structured in accordance with actual reality, leading in lieu to the imposition of order on the object that was originally only symbolized. In Mitchell’s case that represented object was Egypt, which now served as the goal of British colonialist efforts.

The same organizational methods that were applied to the exhibition were then, during the early 19th century, imposed upon Egyptian society itself through a series of deliberate and systematic reforms. The military had undergone a modernizing effort immediately after the Napoleonic conquest, and was therefore already conformed to the European wants of discipline and order, which functioned through the physical confinement of troops, allowing both for surveillance and the establishment of hierarchies.

The militaristic approach although did not remain within the barracks, but was introduced into civilian life. The city was the first to undergo an innovative transformation. The neat divisions and containments of the newly structured capital and corresponding villages became representative of things unseen, such as clarity and logic. But the tangible, material state of Egypt was not the only aspect to be addressed; the unseen elements of existence also received necessary attention, the most important of these, being the mind.

Thought witnessed a transformation via education, a creation of the 19th century. School locations, classrooms, and schedules were completely standardized and meticulously constructed. Here, within the walls of academia, students were introduced to self-discipline, productiveness, and “patriotism”. The goal of formalized education was the creation of the model citizen, who was now -in correlation to the newly ordered city- direly needed.

The greatest contribution of this new found educational system was perhaps the field of practice known as politics, which after the 1860s deemed its responsibilities to include maintaining the health of the masses, policing as well as reorganizing the streets, and most of all, the education of ignorant minds. Instead of the sporadic pre-colonial monopolization on power, the modern stance of politics focused in on the individual. Again, a framework directed the workings of the populace beginning on the inside (the individual), and progressing outward (the society).

Since the innovative outlook of 19th century politics focused on the individual, the colonial powers adjusted their Oriental views to continue the monitoring and manipulation of restructuring. This was done through anthropological means, such as the ethnography, which exemplified the practice of cultural relativism, or the unbiased appreciation of another culture. The main focus of these early cultural assessments centered on the European idea of indolence, which, through the written word, managed to infiltrate Egyptian society, in turn causing productiveness to become the primary concern of the state and the individual.

If nothing else, enframing featured one paradox after the next. The Orientalist scoffed at the inferior Egyptian, yet took pride in showcasing their practices, traditions, and environment. Europeans went to search for the true meaning of what they had seen as a representation, only to degrade the actual object for not resembling the reproduced image. Order was imposed upon a society that had to retain a measure of its original “disorganized” state for the actual presence of “order” to be realized. Framework is deemed as primordial and a necessity, but only arises in response to the restructuring of Egyptian society. Most importantly, the order and certainty of representation became the order and certainty of reality.

Copyright Lilith Eden 2011. All Rights Reserved.


Bob on October 22, 2013:


Lilith Eden (author) from Hanau, Germany on July 02, 2011:

Oh, don't get me started about that one crazed individual who manages to fudge things for the greater populace because of his or her fool's errand for a self-serving greater cause. It makes me grit my teeth.

And just know, if the world goes to hell in a hand-basket, I will surely be found in the midst of some Amazonian tribe, hoping for sanctuary in exchange for peanut butter or whatever sugar infused, carb enhanced food I have managed to cart along.

Yes, science is overly interesting to me, although I am not at all well versed, especially when it comes to technology. Biology is much more comprehensible to me.

And humanity, be involved in something stupid? No, we couldn't possibly manage that...

Till we plunge into the depths of offhand conversation again, good sir.


Craig Suits from Florida on July 02, 2011:

It's not going to happen in our lifetime Sis. Right now we got some real big earth busting issues we should be working on while we still got the time. I'm all for terriforming Mars and the like but that's not going to be much use if there's no humans left to go there. All it takes is just one religious crazed idiot with a vial of smallpox sprinkling a few global airports and you can kiss us all syonara.

Ironic but just maybe, those stone age, isolated jungle tribes in Borneo will be the only ones left to carry on for humanity. See! we gotta get some Pepsi machines, Pop Tarts, and Chuck Berry records down there fast. :>)

By the way, are you interested in science in general? Electronis and all that cool high end stuff?

Oh and, you mentioned "The Lottery". Sounds like something stupid humanity would get envolved in. Captain Kirk's Enterprise visited a planet that did almost the same thing. They had wars with their computers and rather than destroy their cities, when one side took a hit, the computers compiled the amount of probably deaths, and x amount of citizens would simply scoot off to an extermination chamber and be vaporized. Humans arent the only idiots in the universe it would seem...

Take care, your one of a kind with unlimited potential. Fun too!

Lilith Eden (author) from Hanau, Germany on July 01, 2011:

How can I argue the base rule of Star Trek's Federation? That's right; I absolutely cannot.

Intervention may be the most sound suggestion and to hell with ethics, but you might not want to underestimate the power of tradition. Have you ever come across the short story, "The Lottery", by Shirley Jackson? In the shortest possible synopsis, a town stones one member of its populace each year based purely upon custom. They themselves no longer remember why they assemble in the town square, willingly drop their names into a battered black box, and then accept their death if it is, in fact, their name that is drawn. While this is an extreme example, it does accurately represent the steadfastness of traditional practices, even with the progression of time. Certainly, we can bring music to them, as you suggest, and let them Blue Oyster Cult their way into a stupor, yet this doesn't necessarily provide enough incentive for them to take the walk down the yellow brick road to modernity. Naturally, all this is case dependent.

And we absolutely do need to take care of each other (brother ;) ), but that will be an impossibility while the world remains as corrupt as it now is. I agree with you on that point as well.

And could you possibly posit a greater idea than the observation of non-human life from a "galaxy far far away"? I have a very firm stance on life being elsewhere in this universe, and the sheer thought of interacting with a complete alien life form makes me swoon ( I can assure you that somewhere in the world, an alarm is currently signaling my high level of nerdishness).

As for the last part, the whole nature of light is incredible and rather mind-boggling. I have recently become far more interested with the finer details of how light travels through space, and this conversation has made me want to delve even deeper into the subject.


Craig Suits from Florida on July 01, 2011:

Considering all the obvious negative ramifications of living an almost stone age jungle life, if given the understanding of their culture and that of the modern world, I really doubt any young person at all would opt to remain in the jungle suffering what must be an incredibly difficult and dangerous life just to stay alive and if they're lucky, only live to 40 or 50. Just the superstitions and the bazarr customs would be enough for me to haul ass and seek to learn as much as I could about reality.

My god even their music amounts to nothing much more than jumping up and down barefoot in the dust. I'm an accoumplished guitarist and I've often wondered how they would react if I brought my guitar and amp, a sax, a good bass player, an organ, the whole band and we did a little Chuck Berry for them. I wouldn't bet money on their reaction one way or the other but knowing music as I do I'd have to lean towards them rockin and rollin in short order. That would be a trip to watch that wouldn't it? Yeah, we could teach them how to do the Lindy or the twist. That might just be all it would take to give them incentive to leave their jungle lifestyle. great music is one of the most powerful forces on the planet.

I don't know Lilith, I'm sure there are plenty of programs were anthropologists assist peoples in medical need in particular but I still believe that in general, we're not supposed to mess with any culture or way of life ever. Even to save the precious lives of a brood of baby Cheeta's about to be ravaged by a pack of hungry lions.

Hell even Star Treks Federation rule number 1 is never to interfear with the progress of any culture in outer space or otherwise.

I'm thinking you believe in the standard version of evolution and that humanity started out on the branch of a fig tree probably somewhere in Africa, became a bipedal, and spread all over the world. Well if that's true, that makes us all related. If I was your brother, would I still be your brother 100 years from now? of course! How about 1000 years from now? Even 10,000 years and more. We would always be brother and sister. Time could not change that reality.

That makes all of us in the world brothers and sisters doesn't it?

One huge family living on one big house, Earth.

We'd better start realizing that because we're all becoming closer and closer with the advent of the Internet, jet plains, cell phones and the like.

As a matter of fact your witnessing a major evolutional and cultural makeover right as we speak as a result of the above technology. The young people of this world, now that they have become more aware, are revolting against their oppressive backward regimes all over the world. the Middle East, China, practally everywhere people want the chance to modernize and we're all for it arent we? Well how come we don't feel that way about our brothers and sisters still living miserable existances in mosqueto infested jungles?

Did you know one out of every 17 people on earth dies from malaria. Wow!

No Mam, I believe we've got to get in there and help our brothers and sisters at least stay alive. Fisrt we've got to abolish wars and religious organizations so we have the resources to start the ball rolling. Good luck right?

One more thing I believe would interest you. I've been science minded since day one and I've often wondered what life was like on other far away planets. How would you like to view, just like on TV, an ongoing movie of what was happening on another planet say 100 light years away? That would be the ultimate anthropological trip wouldn't it?

Quickly...If you and I were 1 foot apart you would not see me as you may think, you would see a reflection of photons or light reflected off me but not for a fractuion of a nanosecond later. 100 feet apart, same deal but a longer delay period. A mile, two, a thousand miles or even that planet I spoke of at 100 light years. same deal again except that now light particals have diverged to the extent that you'd be lucky to catch one photon at that distance but the light is still out there speeding away and spreading out more and more isn't it?

What if we could build a humongous collector in space, one maybe 10 thousand miles long simply to collect and remodulate the light coming from that planet that originated 100 light years ago. We coul literally sit in our living rooms and watch the events on that planet 100 light years ago just like they were happening today.Unfortunatly we wouldn't be able to receive any current news due to the fact that even at 186 thousand miles per second, light is still pretty slow considering the vastness of space.

Perhaps one day.....

Lilith Eden (author) from Hanau, Germany on July 01, 2011:

Oh goodness, how can I possibly answer this one? Dear sir, I have reflected on a good response for over two hours now. Allow me to attempt:

Firstly, everything that anthropologist do is concentrated around ethics. With every decision we make, we must make sure that no harm is inflicted upon a population, environment, so on and etc. For those who practice this field purely from an academic stance choose not to alter the lives of the persons he or she studies with the introduction of modern ideals. Instead, the researchers record the culture's adaptive patterns, kinship structure, subsistence means, and belief system in order to fill in the grand picture of what it truly means to be a human being.

On the other hand, anthropologists can also serve as advocates, in which changes/improvements are introduced to a developing society. In Africa, for instance, oral rehydration therapies are saving the lives of countless children who would have succumbed to death because of a simple sickness such as diarrhea. Even here in America, anthropologists are attempting urban renewal projects in the hopes of bettering the quality of living for those of lower economic standing.

Still, whether one is studying a culture solely in an academic fashion or advocating a clean-needle program in San Francisco, ethical issues are a continuous presence. Do we, as a more "civilized" culture have the right to impose our presence on others? Is our quality of living truly better? If we have the opportunity to help, would we have the resources to assist all those in need? The list goes on and on.

I know that these answers did not suffice, but at least I laid the groundwork for my position. Let me know your thoughts on this, Craig. I never really have the opportunity to speak to someone with this outside of the field.


Craig Suits from Florida on July 01, 2011:

Kind of makes one wonder if anyone is safe from colonialism.

I have a question, only someone with your expertise on the subject should answer with any degree of credibility.

I was around when there was no TV and since it's become a daily affair, I've seen many programs where anthropoligists visited tribes in remote area's of the world that were as primitive in all respect's as it gets while still being classified as human.

The anthropoligists always seem to want to protect these people and they're culture no matter how primitive, violent, or short lived their live styles may be. Granted, many of them seem content with their lifestyle but what do they know of a perhaps better way to live through education, modern medicine, or shopping in a supermarket as opposed to looking for monkeys in the jungle canopy with a blowgun and scrubbing their wounds with leaves.

Shouldn't they all be introduced to modern advancements and cultural achievments rather than left half naked to fend for themselves in a jungle?

Wouldn't you give them medicine if you could cure a deadly plague or would you let then die? If so, where does your cultural intervention end? Why not help them out with electricity, sanitary equipment, safe food, clothes, even a drive in movie sooner or later. Why not?

The elders would surely prefer the jungle I'm sure, but what of the next generation? More of the same or a safer, more productive, and much longer lifestyle.

Speaking as an uneducated lay person on the subject, I say to hell with protecting their ancient cultures of life in the jungle. I believe they should at least be given the chance to evolve with the rest of the modern world.

I got a feeling I'm dead wrong and talking like an idiot but, well, it wouldn't be the first time. Enlighten me!

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