City of Living-Death: Urban Precarity and Social Transformation in an Egyptian Cemetery

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Anthropology and Museum Studies

Publication Date



In Cairo, tombs provide shelter to generations of displaced Egyptians who invest energy and resources toward transforming cemeteries into societies. Drawing on ethnographic research carried out with informal tomb residents between 2008–2013, this article explores entanglements of life and death through three women’s case studies. Through an examination of what residents call “living-death,” I show how experiences of precarity make dying an integral part of living. Although scholars have discussed communities of “living dead,” my research in a cemetery illustrates this concept in an almost literal way, and demonstrates that women’s bodies, homes, livelihoods, and relationships are embedded in processes of death, dying, and decay. My analysis shows that negotiations and contestations over various linkages between life and death—including health, heritage, and housing—are central to experiences of precarity. I engage the nuanced ways these tensions play out and highlight the creative strategies women have cultivated to survive in a space of death.


This article was originally published in City & Society. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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City & Society


© 2021 by the American Anthropological Association.