Uncomfortable ethnography: Navigating friendship and ‘cruel hope’ with Egypt's disconnected middle-class

Harry Pettit*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Stemming from feminist and postcolonial theory, there exists a wealth of literature investigating the politics and ethics of knowledge production in contemporary research. This paper explicates how a methodological and conceptual focus on the uncomfortable emotions experienced by researchers and participants within fieldwork can initiate new conversations on the ethical tensions littering the ethnographic project. I candidly set out the shame, frustration, doubt, guilt, and hope that materialised as I, a white British middle-class male researcher, follow young educated un/underemployed Egyptians as they navigate a precarious labour market and chase globalised aspirations that are difficult to reach. In the paper I argue that by paying attention to the emotional load of the research process, I was able to better identify and explore the postcolonial relations of power enmeshed in my own and my participants' racialised bodies. In particular, I examine the difficulty of being both ‘western’ researcher and ‘western’ friend in Egypt through the lens of what Lauren Berlant (2011) has labelled a cruel attachment to illusive fantasies of the good life. I argue that embracing discomfort can provide an avenue to interrogate the structural power inequalities at play in ethnographic research, while still forging meaningful relationships within them.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100714
Number of pages7
JournalEmotion, Space and Society
Early online date29 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


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