Behind the Seen: The Extramoral Political Economies of Visual Media Production in Egypt
In Egypt, the media industry is a site of power contestation among individuals, institutions, and neoliberal state authorities, which leads to the emergence of new political subjectivities as well as novel forms of solidarity. Based on my dissertation, this project examines not only how media workers are exploited but probes into the subversive tactics and strategies the workers forge to maintain their livelihoods in two simultaneous sites: the filming locations and their labor union. First, I trace how the labor requirements of media production extract surplus value through the feminization and multiplication of labor, thus articulating a distinct gendered political subjectivity. Second, as a space of precarity, informality, and securitization, the urbanity of Cairo makes visible how production crews and urban inhabitants engage in strategies of vitalist pragmatism, i.e., tactics of “love and appeasement”, which I suggest turns neoliberal subjugation into a calculative rationality. Third, examining the emergence of the technical workers’ union within Egypt’s dangerous political landscape, I propose that its legal history complicates what constitutes ‘the political’ and materializes the conceptual split between art and labor. Fourth, accounting for the Covid-19 pandemic, I analyze how my interlocutors experienced times of crisis in the backstages of Egypt’s media industry: ‘on location’ and ‘in the union;’ I argue that both embody the limits of formal politics and consequently expand the definitions of “political action and solidarity” into what I term: transient solidarity. These inner processes and infrastructures of Egypt’s visual media nuance our understanding of the industry and its representations and instantiate an understanding and a praxis of politics that goes beyond, yet still accounts for, the exploitation, governance, and resistance paradigms. Through this project, I argue that workers of visual media in Egypt embody and enact extramoral politics. “Extramoral”—neither moral nor immoral— denotes the potential utilization of the contradictions and ambivalences of conduct that the global neoliberal economy imposes on political subjects through labor.