Unsettling Times: land, political economy and protest in the Bedouin villages of central Jordan
University of Cambridge
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Wojnarowski, F. (2021). Unsettling Times: land, political economy and protest in the Bedouin villages of central Jordan (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.72728
This thesis is a study of discourses of contemporary Bedouin identity and political economy in central Jordan. Drawing on 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork, it follows the experiences of young, mostly male, interlocutors living in small villages around the town of Madaba, from two largely settled but still discursively Bedouin ‘ashā’ir (socio-political categories normally glossed in English as ‘tribes’); the Bani Sakhr and the Bani Hamida. I explore the ways in which these interlocutors imagine and anticipate their futures, considering the dilemmas they face in seeking meaningful social reproduction, and their entanglement with various modes of everyday politics, in order to understand how and why political forms and identity categories are adapted and reproduced, especially in the context of new rural protest movements. This provides a new approach to wider processes of nation-building, identity-formation, and state encompassment of marginal areas, in the face of mass forced migration, structural adjustment, the rise of new social forums (on- and off-line), and widespread protests. It considers questions of land settlement, sovereignty and the politics of everyday life in a rural region from which the protest movement dubbed Jordan's 'Arab Spring' emerged among supposedly traditionalist and loyalist Bedouin. I examine the historical context behind the current social, political and economic position of my interlocutors via histories of land settlement, sedenterisation initiatives, and changing political institutions through Ottoman rule and the British Mandate, examining various processes of frontier governmentality that sought to pacify and settle, but also define and repurpose Bedouin as a conceptual category. Making an intervention in the long-standing anthropological debate around the nature and analytical usage of tribalism and the role of colonial effect in its construction in the region, I consider ‘asha’īr as political modalities existing in a relationship of co-(re)production with the nation-state, within a political and moral economy of hospitality, protection and encompassment, which has also come to be used to symbolise the nation of Jordan itself. In the face of postcolonial critiques and challenges over representation and Orientalism, anthropologists have rightly called for greater reflexivity and attention to positionality. Yet, more problematically, they have largely withdrawn from examinations of non-state political forms and non-national identity categories. Concepts of Bedouin and tribe, aside from their contested and critiqued construction, continue to have conceptual and political power in Jordan and elsewhere, and anthropology is at risk of leaving them to development practitioners and policy-makers. Anthropologists might formerly have explained the social setting I study as one generated by agnatic kinship and segmentary lineage. I instead reconsider ‘ashā’ir as historically contingent political responses centred on certain limited projects of representational sovereignty.
Social Anthropology, Ethnography, Middle East, Arabic, Jordan, Bedouin, Nomadic Pastoralism, Colonialism, Protests, Arab Spring, British Mandate, Ottoman Empire, Land ownership, Hospitality, Oral history
Cambridge Trust, Fitzwilliam College, Trinity College, CBRL.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.72728
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