Julia Elyachar works and publishes in the fields of economic anthropology, political anthropology, anthropology of the state, NGOs, and international organizations, the anthropology of value, anthropology of the Middle East, political economy, management studies and knowledge practices, and social theory.
She was trained in the fields of women’s studies, political economy, and finance (Barnard College, BA), and in anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies (Harvard University, MA, Ph.D.). She also trained as a dancer and worked professionally in dance, mime, and children’s theatre. Her main site of ethnographic research is Cairo, Egypt. She has also lived and worked in Israel/Palestine and Slovenia, former Yugoslavia.
Elyachar has published in the American Ethnologist, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Public Culture, and American Anthropologist, among other journals. Her book, Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic
Development, and the State (Duke University Press, 2005) has received numerous positive reviews in scholarly journals such as American Ethnologist, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Arab Studies Journal,European Journal of Sociology, Social Identities, Work, Employment, and Society, Digest of Middle East Studies, and Middle East Journal. It has been praised as a “tour-de-force of critical analysis and ethnographic exposition" (Roy Dilley, Social Anthropology), as a “brilliant study of contemporary forms of market ideology and practice”
(Tim Mitchell, book blurb), and as a “masterful description and sophisticated interpretation of the transformation of the social, cultural, and political economy of urban Egypt" (Donald Abdullah Cole, American Ethnologist).
Markets of Dispossession was based on three years of ethnographic fieldwork in Cairo. It contributes to debates in anthropology about the nature of the state, NGOs, governmentality, ethnography, markets, economic anthropology, and value. Elyachar argues that market-based schemes to empower women and the poor through microlending are part of a broader process of dispossession under neoliberal market reform. She makes her
argument on the basis of ethnographic research with state organizations, NGOs, international organizations (IOs), bankers, community organizations and families brought together through their involvement in microlending
schema in Cairo. Analysis of governance and power in the world today, she makes clear, must proceed in the context of one unified domain or field of power. Ethnography, she shows, has a unique potential to contribute to
such analysis. Markets of Dispossession brings together detailed ethnographic analysis of the kind of local communities traditionally studied by anthropologists with analysis of more “expert” forms of culture
in development institutions, banks, and state offices. In her ethnography of the small workshops that make up the vast majority of private sector enterprises in Egypt, Elyachar shows, market life is characterized by
distinct forms of exchange and modes of value production. The transformation of those forms of value into new sources of profit contributes to the global process of free market expansion even while
contributing to the inherent instability of neoliberal free markets.
Elyachar is currently writing about how management studies and business theory have drawn on anthropological research to develop new sources of profit in the global era. Drawing on ethnographic material, social
theory, management literature, and the business press, Elyachar looks at how a set of notions central to current business practice and techniques of governing, such as “best practices,” “knowledge communities,” and
“tacit knowledge” draw heavily on anthropological research and, as a tool-set of new management practices, are changing the lives of anthropological informants in unexpected ways.
Elyachar is also writing on two related themes that grow out of her interest in value and sociality. The first theme is the evil eye, a topic that has been neglected by anthropologists and studied mainly by
folklorists. In Elyachar’s approach, ethnographic study of the evil eye offers a window into understanding key struggles over the control of social resources in Egypt in the era of market reform. Her second theme
is the nature of sociality and the historical genesis of “popular culture” in Egypt, and the transformation of a historically generated communicative “infrastructure” of sociality in Cairo into a free resource for the
privitization and reform of the telecommunications industry. In these projects, Elyachar is concerned to overcome a common split in the anthropology of value between study of “traditional societies” and their
forms of value on the one hand, and the analysis of capitalism or market life on the other.
Before coming to UCI, Elyachar was a Fellow of the International Center of Advanced Studies at New York University. She has also been a Research Fellow of the Institute for Anthropological and Spatial Studies of the
Scientific Research Centre of the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow and Director of Graduate Studies at the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, New
York University. She is an occasional reviewer for American Ethnologist, PoLAR, and Comparative Studies in Society and History and other journals and is a reviewer for the Wenner-Gren Foundation. Her research has been
funded by the Fulbright Commission, the SSRC, and the MacArthur Foundation, among other foundations.
Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development and the State in Cairo (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).
“Best Practices: Research, NGOs, and Finance in Cairo.” American Ethnologist, Vol. 33, no. 3, August 2005: 413-426.
“The Near East,” in A Handbook of Economic Anthropology, James Carrier, editor. Edward Elgar, 2005.
“Mappings of Power: The State, NGOs, and International Organizations in the Informal Economy of Cairo,”Comparative Studies in Society and History, Volume 45, no. 3, Fall 2003: 571-605.
“Empowerment Money: The World Bank, Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Value of Culture in Egypt,”Public Culture, Vol. 14, no. 3, Fall 2002: 493-514.
“Striking for Debt: Power, Finance, and Governmentality in Egypt,” Anthropological Notebooks (Društva antropologov Slovenije), Volume 10, no. 1, June 2005 (Ljubljana).
"Finance internationale, micro-crédit et religion de la société civile en Égypte." Critique Internationale (Paris, November 2001): 139-152.