Theaters of Citizenship

Cloth Text – $99.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-4176-6

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-4175-9
Publication Date
April 2020
Page Count
192 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Theaters of Citizenship

Aesthetics and Politics of Avant-Garde Performance in Egypt
Sonali Pahwa

Theaters of Citizenship investigates independent Egyptian performance practices from 2004 to 2014 to demonstrate how young dramatists staged new narratives of citizenship outside of state institutions, exploring rights claims and enacting generational identity. Using historiography, ethnography, and performance analysis, the book traces this avant-garde from the theater networks of the late Hosni Mubarak era to productions following the Egyptian revolution of 2011.
In 2004, independent cultural institutions were sites for more democratic forms of youth organization and cultural participation than were Egyptian state theaters. Sonali Pahwa looks at identity formation within this infrastructure for new cultural production: festivals, independent troupes, workshops, and manifesto movements. Bringing institutional changes in dialogue with new performance styles on stages and streets, Pahwa conceptualizes performance culture as a school of citizenship. Independent theater incubated hope in times of despair and pointed to different futures for the nation’s youth than those seen in television and newspapers. Young dramatists countered their generation’s marginalization in the neoliberal economy, media, and political institutions as they performed alternative visions for the nation. An important contribution to the fields of anthropology and performance studies, Pahwa’s analysis will also interest students of sociology and Egyptian history.

About the Author

SONALI PAHWA is an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota.


“This compellingly written ethnography of theater and performance in Egypt before, during, and after the Arab Spring provides absolute proof that art transforms not only minds and bodies but modes of citizenship—whether explicitly or in fugitive practices that escape the attention of the state.” —Deborah Kapchan, editor of Poetic Justice: An Anthology of Contemporary Moroccan Poetry

“Through the lens of theater practice, this insightful book explores Egyptian responses to a range of modern phenomena, from the rise of neoliberal politics, with its doctrine of self-help, to trends in Arab feminism and the rethinking of Arab masculinities. Theaters of Citizenship is a highly valuable addition to the growing literature on Arab identity formation and political action in the cultural spheres.” —Edward Ziter, author of Political Performance in Syria: From the Six-Day War to the Syrian Uprising

“Sonali Pahwa has crafted an incisive ethnographic account of independent urban theater in Egypt in the years surrounding the decline and fall of the Mubarak regime. Approaching theater as a stage for citizenship, she evocatively conveys how young Egyptians engaged with a variety of theatrical genres and practices during these critical years, from the experimental avant-garde to the theatrics of personal development workshops and from feminist theater to street performances after the Arab Spring.” —Jane Goodman, author of Staging Cultural Encounters: Algerian Actors Tour the United States


“Theaters of Citizenship is a rich account of how Egypt’s young dramatists have fashioned a revolutionary avant-garde, and in that process have created a newly critical aesthetic vocabulary of youth, citizenship, gender, and nation. Reading this book provides great insights into the creative ways youth are imagining, and indeed living, their potential futures.” —Jessica Winegar, author of Creative Reckonings: The Politics of Art and Culture in Contemporary Egypt