Jessica Winegar Associate Professor

Research and teaching interests

Sociocultural Anthropology, cultural politics and culture industries, material and visual culture, the culture concept, class, gender, Islam, Middle East and North Africa.


Jessica Winegar is a sociocultural anthropologist whose work investigates how people articulate understandings of history and political-economic change through cultural production and consumption, in particular through competing notions of culture and culturedness.  She is primarily concerned with the multiple ways that culture projects create social hierarchies and modern subjects while frequently hiding the mechanisms of these processes, thereby contributing to their durability. 

Her first book Creative Reckonings: The Politics of Art and Culture in Contemporary Egypt (Stanford University Press, 2006) focused on these processes in the realm of the visual arts.  It is an ethnographic study of the intense debates over cultural authenticity and artistic value that occur in a postcolonial society undergoing market liberalization.  It examines how cultural elites reckon with the legacies of colonialism, socialism, and modernism in order to produce meaningful, yet competing, versions of national and elite visual culture in a context where “culture” itself is becoming increasingly globalized and commodified. 

She is currently working on two new books.  The first, tentatively titled Culturing Youth: Democracy, Creativity, and Development in the Middle East, charts the meteoric rise, successes, and challenges of state and NGO cultural development programs directed towards poor and working class youth in Egypt. It studies how and why such programs feature arts, etiquette, and literacy training in attempts to make poor and working class youth more “cultured” with an eye towards building a democracy based mainly on market principles, and it investigates how youth engage with such elite projects.  The book is ultimately concerned with the ways that “culture” has become so important to postcolonial state governance, NGO programs, and religious projects to create moral communities, in an era of waning state legitimacy, economic restructuring, and revolution. 

Winegar is also writing, with Lara Deeb, a book entitled Anthropology’s Politics: Discipline and Region through the Lens of the Middle East (under contract with Stanford University Press).  This book examines how social life in the post-Cold War Middle East, as well as developments in academic thought and the structure of the American academy, have challenged traditional culturalist anthropological approaches at the same time that “culture” has become a key device to explain the Middle East outside of academia, particularly in government projects.  It looks at how anthropologists have responded to the confluence of shifts in intellectual thought, the corporatization of the university, the militarization of knowledge, and the “War on Terror” in ways that reshape the relationship between discipline and region. 

At Northwestern, she is a core member of the Program in Middle East and North African Studies.  This program has an undergraduate major and minor, as well as a Graduate Cluster and Certificate Program

Winegar has also published numerous scholarly and popular articles on Middle Eastern visual arts and artists, North African visual culture, U.S. consumption of Middle Eastern arts, U.S. media coverage of the Middle East, and on U.S. academia.  Her articles have appeared in Cultural Anthropology, Anthropological Quarterly, Review of Middle East Studies, Middle East Report, Contemporary Practices, Critical Interventions and online at Jadaliyya and ArteEast.  She has played an active role in ArteEast, an arts organization dedicated to supporting and promoting artists from the Middle East and its diasporas.  Winegar is also a founding member of the Task Force for Middle East Anthropology, a group dedicated to increasing the relevance, visibility, and application of anthropological perspectives on the Middle East.

Winegar has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Learned Societies, Social Science Research Council, Fulbright, and the Mellon Foundation.  She has enjoyed postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University, and the School for Advanced Research.

Recent courses taught

  • State and Subject
  • Anthropology of the Middle East
  • Middle Eastern Popular Culture
  • Art and Material Culture
  • Culture and Consumption

Selected publications

Creative Reckonings: The Politics of Art and Culture in Contemporary Egypt (Stanford University Press, 2006).  Winner of the 2007 Albert Hourani Book Award, given by the Middle East Studies Association for the best book in Middle East studies and the Arnold Rubin Outstanding Publication Award from the Arts Council of the African Studies Association.

2012.  “The Politics of Middle East Anthropology,” Annual Review of Anthropology 41:537-558.  Co-authored with Lara Deeb.

2012   “The Privilege of Revolution: Gender, Class, Space, and Affect in Cairo.” American Ethnologist 39(1), 67-70.

2011    “Taking Out the Trash: Youth Clean Up Egypt After Mubarak,” Middle East Report 259:32-35. To be reprinted in 2012 in Revolution, Protest and Social Change in Egypt, 1999-2011 (Verso).

2011      “Egypt: A Multigenerational Revolt,” Jadaliyya,

2010    “Culture is the Solution: The Civilizing Mission of the Egyptian State,” 

Review of Middle East Studies 43(2):189-197.

2010    “The Culture Concept in Political Struggle,” Introduction to Special Section, co-edited and co-authored with Amahl Bishara.  Review of Middle East Studies 43(2):164-167.

2009     “The Question of Africanity in North African Visual Culture,” Special issue of Critical Interventions:  Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture, Issue 5.  Co-edited with Katarzyna Pieprzak.  Co-authored introductory essay entitled “Africa North, South, and In Between.”

2008    “Purposeful Art Between Television Preachers and the State,” ISIM Review (International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World)


2008    “The Humanity Game: Art, Islam, and the War on Terror,” Anthropological Quarterly, 81(3):651-681.

2006    “Cultural Sovereignty in a Global Art Economy: Egyptian Cultural Policy and the New Western Interest in Art from the Middle East,”

Cultural Anthropology 21(2):173-204.

2005     “Of Chadors and Purple Fingers: U.S. Visual Media Coverage of the Iraqi Elections,” Feminist Media Studies 5(3):391-395.