The Politics of Bread: State Power, Food Subsidies and Neoliberalization in Hashemite Jordan
This dissertation examines the bread subsidy in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It scrutinizes the socio-political conflicts that surround this policy, the spatial practices that subsume it and the ways in which it is understood and given meaning. Despite repeated attempts by international financial institutions to eliminate them, authoritarian regimes throughout the region have gone to great lengths to maintain this and similar welfare programs, even extending them during the tumult of the so-called ‘Arab Spring.’ This dissertation seeks to answer why.
Through the lens of bread, I suggest a new approach to understanding state power, not as the straightforward product of a monolithic entity but as the unstable product of social practices that make the state appear to exist. Building on the work of Judith Butler and Alex Jeffrey, I call these routine actions “performing the state.” The empirical chapters, based on extensive fieldwork in Jordan, attend to how welfare provision not only reflects the state—its capacities, historical development or cultural proclivities—but performs it into being. The analysis centers on how certain institutions and actors, through their imbrication in the social, spatial and political patterns of welfare provision, work to entrench the state—as an idea, a material force and a locus of affective investment—in the lives of citizens. In attending to how the Jordanian state is constituted and reproduced through discourses, spatial practices of reach, moral economies and political rationalities, this study seeks to illuminate the iterative processes of reference that create the appearance of an autonomous structure that both citizens and scholars call the state. By understanding the state as the contingent product of routine performances, we can better examine the disproportionate importance of particular welfare programs to assembling state power and fostering authoritarian outcomes, as well as their links to key political processes and policy outcomes.