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The labor of hope: meritocracy and precarity in Egypt

Hosted by the Department of Geography and Environment and the Middle East Centre

Shaw Library, 6th floor, Old Building


Harry Pettit

Harry Pettit

Salwa Ismail

Jo Littler

Jo Littler

Tatiana Thieme

Tatiana Thieme


Claire Mercer

Claire Mercer

Harry Pettit will discuss his new book The Labor of Hope: Meritocracy and Precarity in Egypt (Stanford University Press). He will be joined by panellists Tatiana Thieme, Jo Littler and Salwa Ismail, who will provide comments and provocations. 

Technological advancements, expanding education, and unfettered capitalism have encouraged many around the world to aspire to better lives, even as declines in employment and widening inequality are pushing more and more people into insecurity and hardship. In Egypt, a generation of young men desire fulfilling employment, meaningful relationships, and secure family life, yet find few paths to achieve this. 

The Labor of Hope follows these educated but underemployed men as they struggle to establish careers and build satisfying lives. In so doing, this book reveals the lived contradiction at the heart of capitalist systems—the expansive dreams they encourage and the precarious lives they produce.

Harry Pettit follows young men as they engage a booming training, recruitment, and entrepreneurship industry that sells the cruel meritocratic promise that a good life is realizable for all. He considers the various ways individuals cultivate distraction and hope for future mobility: education, migration, consumption, and prayer. These hope-filled practices are a form of emotional labor for young men, placing responsibility on the individual rather than structural issues in Egypt's economy.

Illuminating this emotional labor, Pettit shows how the capitalist economy continues to capture the attention of the very people harmed by it.

Meet our speakers and chair

Harry Pettit (@HarrygPettit) is Assistant Professor in Economic Geography at Radboud University Nijmegen. He is a former PhD candidate at LSE’s Department of Geography and Environment and is a visiting scholar at the Middle East Centre.

Salwa Ismail is a professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London.

Jo Littler is a professor in the Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Tatiana Thieme is Associate Professor in Human Geography at UCL. 

Claire Mercer is Professor of Human Geography at LSE.

More about this event

The event will be followed by a reception open to all.

The Department of Geography and Environment (@LSEGeography) is a centre of international academic excellence in economic, urban and development geography, environmental social science and climate change.

This event is co-hosted with the Middle East Centre.

Twitter Hashtag for this event: #LSELaborofHope


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