A Bigger Prison

Egyptian migrations and the experience of limited movement


  • Samuli Schielke Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient


How does existential mobility—the sense of being able to move forward in one’s life—relate to the experience of borders and limitations? Tawfiq is an Egyptian man who once longed to migrate to Europe or the United States, but has since then worked on and off as migrant worker in the Arab Gulf states. He has reflected on this question by using the metaphor of walls: prison walls over which one wants to jump, new walls which one faces next, walls that gently guide you to a certain direction, and the idea that facing and overcoming obstacles is what human life is about. Based on a longitudinal fieldwork with Egyptian labour migrants to the Gulf, this article takes up migrant labourers’ reflections about different senses of migration and travel, dreams, money, walls, limits, escape, steps, stability, return, postponement, forward movement and loops. Such ideas are helpful for thinking about the existential pursuits of moving forward in life, the moral shape of social becoming, and the political economy of migrant labour. Taken together, they also contribute to a non-binary understanding of movement and stasis, limits and openings, and the direction and magnitude of steps on the path of social becoming.

How to Cite

Schielke, S. (2020). A Bigger Prison: Egyptian migrations and the experience of limited movement. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 44(2), 40–58. https://doi.org/10.30676/jfas.v44i2.77709