World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Arabophone mobile pastoralists: social relations that strengthen through times of change. Perspectives on law, language and literature (389) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 5.00-7.00 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Cambridge (United Kingdom)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Alice Wilson

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Some current scholarly and public opinions about arabophone mobile pastoralists, commonly known in some parts of the MENA region as ‘Bedouin’, perceive that these groups, and the way of life with which they are associated in Middle Eastern and Euro-American imaginations, are ‘disappearing’. Pastoral nomadism and tribal organization seem to have lost prominence in the context of sedentarization, industrialization and the rise of nation-states; ‘Bedouin identity’ now seems most notable in commercialized forms for consumption by tourists, rather than amongst arabophone mobile pastoralists themselves. This panel engages critically with the idea that there is diminishing scope for arabophone mobile pastoralists to engage in social relations that distinguish them from other groups. It explores whether there has in some areas been a reinforcement, rather than a reduction, of engagement in social relations particular to arabophone mobile pastoralists. The panel examines this idea paying special attention to law, language and literature, three areas in which arabophone mobile pastoralists have historically engaged in practices often distinct from those of neighbouring groups. As arabophone mobile pastoralists have experienced far-reaching social, political and economic changes, the question arises of how language, judicial practices, and oral literary production have commented on, and responded to these changes. The papers draw on fieldwork with arabophone mobile pastoralist groups in the Middle East and North Africa, in each case examining an aspect of how in language, judicial practices, and oral literary production, social relations particular to arabophone mobile pastoralist groups may be strengthening, and even gaining prominence in wider social and political spheres. The Chair, Dr Moneera al-Ghadeer, brings experience from her research on women’s oral poetry of Saudi Arabia, and the discussant, Dr Baudouin Dupret, from his longstanding interest in the anthropology of law in the Middle East.

Chair: Moneera al-Ghadeer, Head of the Department of English Literature and Language, Qatar University; Associate Professor, Department of African Languages and Literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Discussant: Baudouin Dupret, Research Fellow, Social Anthropology, CNRS and ENS.

Paper presenter: Yazid Ben Hounet, Affiliated Researcher, Laboratoire d'Anthropologie Sociale, EHESS; Adjunct Lecturer, Social Anthropology, University of Lausanne. ‘Sul’h (reconciliation) and diya (blood-money) amongst tribal and nomadic groups in Eastern and Western Algeria?
This paper addresses the contemporary practices of sul’h (reconciliation) and diya (blood money) amongst groups who used to be, and are still partly, nomadic (in Mont des Ksour and Eastern Algeria respectively). It aims at showing how these practices are linked to the Qur'anic and Maleki traditions, 'Ûrf (custom), or at least their representations. It also explains, in the perspective of legal pluralism, how these practices occur in parallel to the state legal process (particularly in the case of homicide), and how they supplement it. It finally deals with the question of the recent valorization and « systematisation », by these groups, of sul’h and diya.

Paper presenter: Alice Wilson, PhD candidate, Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. Standardization and vernacularization between fusha and Hassaniya: nationalizing a mobile pastoralist heritage, and localizing international discourses?
This paper examines the relationship between fusha and the Hassaniya dialect in the context of planned socio-political change in the refugee camps for Saharawi refugees from the disputed territory of Western Sahara. The Saharawi were historically predominantly mobile pastoralists; since 1975 the refugees and their leadership have sought to establish a new political community, entailing explicit attempts to break with aspects of pre-exile social organization. The paper shows how some post-exile institutions re-deploy pre-exile institutions, now renamed in fusha; this move towards a standardized linguistic register favours the nationalization of aspects of past social organization useful to state- and nation-building projects. Conversely, some new political processes are renamed using Hassaniya idioms, suggesting a localization of international discourses. In a context of far-reaching social change, these processes of standardization and vernacularization see concepts and idioms linked to the mobile pastoralist past gain, rather than lose, salience.

Paper presenter: Steven Dinero, Associate Professor, Human Geography, University of Philadelphia."Dis-[O]rientation and the Negotiation of A Gendered “Third Space” In Post-Nomadic Society: Neo-Polygamous Activity Among the Bedouin of the Negev"
This paper uses a theoretical framework, [Dis]Orientation, developed by the author elsewhere, and based on the work of Homi Bhabha. The paper argues that as nomadic communities have been sedentarized throughout the MENA, provided with health case, education, and other ‘modern’ amenities, they have entered a ‘Third Space’, no longer living and behaving as herders, nor being fully absorbed within the settled societies which have sought to remove then from their historical cultural roots and lands. The existence of this space is manifested in a number of ways, including via gender relations. Using evidence from the Negev, the author shows that as the State has actively sought to eliminate past social and economic activities, bedouin men have responded with increasingly higher rates of polygyny - that is, a so-called ''traditional'' behaviour. Yet, the ethnic/national origins of second wives has, in only a few decades, changed considerably, progressing from the local (Israel) to the regional (MENA) to the global. The paper concludes by contending that this phenomenon well represents communal efforts to negotiate/situate their newly developing identities with a ''Third Space''.