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Crossing the Globe: Cairo versus Dubrovnik

By John Overington


            The following is an analysis of two field reports written with the intention of describing and understanding the relationship that transnational and vernacular have in modern global cities.  The assignment required the comparison of two global cities, one from the Mediterranean region, and one from the larger Asian/Middle Eastern region.  This analysis will reveal two very different responses to the growing influence of transnationalism on the rooted vernacular in these two different regions of the world.  As will be demonstrated, the Croatian population has been able to fend off the transnational influence on their towns on the Dalmatian coasts, while there is a much different situation in Cairo Egypt.  In the Middle Eastern capital of Cairo, transnational companies have transformed the city into a maze of billboards and advertisements that cannot be navigated without being bombarded with marketing and transnational influence.  The transnational companies have employed their market skills to resell the Egyptian vernacular to the citizens of Cairo.

The first report is on a city that has been able to escape most of the transnational influence that plagues so many cities today.  This report concerning Croatia and more specifically, the city of Dubrovnik, explores my observations that transnational actors have failed to transform the landscape into billboards and neon, and possible explanations for that phenomenon.  This Mediterranean country has battled through some rough spots in recent history, and has been able to escape with their local culture and vernacular quite intact. The struggle between transnationalism and vernacular has had a much different result in Egypt.  Transnationalism has taken a much stronger hold there, and has transformed the ancient city of Cairo into a center of consumerism and capitalist commerce.  Vernacular sites of beauty and attraction are being used as leverage to convince consumers that they must buy products that reflect those elements of the past.  The sharp contrast in the ways that both of these cities have handled the effects of transnationalism is the reason that I have decided to focus on Cairo and Dubrovnik.

Field Reports

Here is the link for the first case study that involves the rejection of transnationalism
in the Croatian city of Dubrovnik:

Croatia Leaves Transnationalism in the Dust

Here is the link for the second case study that describes the ways in which
transnational actors are changing consuming in Cairo.

From Fox Meadows to Spring Valley


            One integral part of this assignment was to include the writings of much more accomplished urban anthropologists and their analyses of situations that I experienced.  Unfortunately, the reading provided did not exactly speak to the experiences I had while in port, so I hope to use them to frame the situations that I did experience.  By understanding the climate in which my experiences occurred, one might better analyze my observations.   This is not to say that the articles were irrelevant to the study of urban anthropology, just that many proved difficult to relate to my limited experiences while in each country.

To be sure, the communities I am discussing in relation to Egypt are modern gated communities that are marketed to upper class Egyptians, not the lower class apartments that also are located outside the city.  These settlements have been received with mixed reviews, but an article written by Farha Ghannam called “Relocation and the Daily Use of Modern Spaces” shows that many greatly appreciate these new dwellings.  From the research that Ghannam did, many of the people who are living outside the city limits were put there by the government to make room for inner city development, and are completely happy.  This situation is much different than that of the packaged and marketed communities that are in the same proximity.   Ghannam's article further frames the communities that exist beyond the city limits of Cairo.

            In the case of Croatia, there was a much different historical situation surrounding the environment in which transnationalism failed to succeed.  Croatia was first a part of the soviet Yugoslavia, and then it went through a transitional period in which it suffered much change and loss.  A focal point of these losses came in 1991 and 1992, when the Balkan Wars were in full force.  This trying time forced thousands of families from their homes, and as a result, may have influenced they way in which they received the messages of transnational actors.  In Irena Plejic’s article “Fear, Death, and Resistance” she describes the unfortunate situations that displaced families had to live in as a result of the war, and tries to show the reader the intense emotions that stem from that displacement.

            Croatian architecture has remained intact regardless of transnational actors, and this architecture speaks a lot to the culture and vernacular of cities like Dubrovnik.  In the first line of Glassie’s article “Vernacular Architecture” he describes the relationship of buildings and vernacular. Glassie states that “buildings like poems and rituals, realize culture,” which speaks to the fact that the Croatian vernacular architecture has been able to stay intact for so long.  Dubrovnik looks much the same as it did for centuries, and this vernacular architecture is the reason that it is such a sought after vacation spot.


            The overpowering theme that I have tried to relate in this exploration of global cities is that vernacular has an uphill battle to keep itself free from transnationalism.  Transnational actors and the advanced tactics they use to sell their products have billions of dollars and man power to transform every city and citizen into consumption machines.  Transnational companies are out to make the largest margins of profit ever seen, and have the ability to employ many ways to convince populations that a product is needed.  The two cities we have explored here have been oppositely affected by transnational actors in the last century.  First, we learned that the city of Dubrovnik, no matter the reasoning, has been able to keep a vast amount of vernacular architecture and culture intact.  We then learned that Cairo, a much larger city, has bee completely engulfed in the transnational world, and has been stripped of its vernacular.  Some of those old world elements still exist in Cairo, but they have been hijacked by transnational actors for the packaging and sale of products.

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