Khaled Fahmy mounts a significant challenge to conventional assessments of the modern state in the Middle East. He does this by foregrounding the human bodily detail of the practice of the emerging modern state and bureaucracy in nineteenth-century Egypt. He tells a new story of the bottom-up and gradual construction of the modern state in the detail of everyday facts of being human: being born, getting ill, defecating, bad smells, proving your identity, and wanting justice for your loved ones. Modernizing practices of law and medicine are shown to have intersected in ways that materially and institutionally made possible new kinds of choices and values involving specific persons and predicaments. He thus brings to life what the emergence of the modern state meant in the messy reality of human living in a way that challenges prevailing ideologies that reduce modernity to the impersonal causality of ideas and essences.

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