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uni'wissen 02-2013_ENG

Kathrin Sharaf studied ethnology, psychol- ogy, and biological anthro- pology at the University of Freiburg. In 2010 she com- pleted her magister degree – with a thesis on internet use among young adults in Cairo, Egypt. Afterwards, she began conducting re- search for her dissertation with the working title Medi- ated Friendship: Social Re- lations and the Internet in Cairo. Her supervisor is the Freiburg ethnologist Prof. Dr. Judith Schlehe. Sharaf received funding for her dissertation from the Ger- man Research Foundation (DFG) as a member of the research training group “Friends, Patrons, Clients: Practice and Semantics of Friendship and Patronage in Historical, Anthropologi- cal, and Cross-Cultural Perspectives.” She is cur- rently also working for the DFG research unit “History in Popular Cultures of Knowledge.” Photo: Thomas Goebel Further Reading Desai, A./Killick, E. (Eds.) (2010): The ways of friendship. Anthropological perspectives. New York. Miller, D. (2012): Das wilde Netzwerk. Ein ethnologischer Blick auf Facebook. Berlin. Peterson, M. A. (2011): Connected in Cairo. Growing up cosmopolitan in the modern Middle East. Bloomington. “Facebook metamorphosed from a platform for maintaining friendships to a source of informa- tion, like an interactive newspaper.” But at the same time, the connection to friendships always remained present: “After all, the people engaged in the discussion were friends.” The private character of Facebook use now led to very personal disputes. Oftentimes the bone of contention didn’t concern fully devel- oped political positions. A desire for a quick end to the unrest, for instance, might be pitted against a plea for further political changes. Al- though Sharaf herself did her best to refrain from adopting political positions as an observer in her Facebook groups, she still ended up being “defriended” by several people – because she posted certain articles and comics that she had seen on the profiles of other friends or in online editions of newspapers on her own profile. Participating in the online networks of friends she studies is part of Sharaf’s research strategy: “I was always online; Facebook is the object of my research and part of my method.” The neces- sary precondition for this was establishing a ba- sis of trust – offline. The ethnologist was already familiar with Cairo from her many visits to the city. Her father is Egyptian. However, her re- search stay in 2011 was the first time she had been there for seven months at a time. She es- tablished her contacts one by one on location, “according to the snowball principle,” she says. Finding older users was thus difficult at the start, but in time the snowball started rolling: “The old- er ladies are very well networked.” Besides mak- ing online and offline observations and documenting them in a research journal, Sharaf conducted individual and group interviews with a total of 115 people. “Many began of their own ac- cord to talk about the significance of the internet and Facebook when I asked them about friend- ships.” A Mix of English and Arabic In addition to gender and family norms, an- other factor that influences friendships on and off the internet is social class: “There is hardly any basis for friendships that transcend class boundaries – whether online or offline.” Mem- bers of the middle class typically use a mix of English and Arabic to communicate on the inter- net. The texts are often typed on an English key- board with numbers as supporting letters. “This shows that one is educated and also rooted in the Egyptian identity.” Today people talk more about politics on the social networks, says Sharaf, but friendship- based use and the norms that go with it still forms the main focus. Sharaf has also observed a keen interest in establishing contact with for- eigners: “This is active knowledge acquisition,” she says, “and many young Egyptians do it more by engaging in discussions and exchange on the web than by reading long texts.” Connected: In Cairo, Kathrin Sharaf studied who maintains contact with whom on laptops and smart- phones – and participated in the online networks of friends herself. Photos: Maria Vazquez/Jürgen Piewe (both Fotolia) 11