Tribe and Tribalism in Arabia: Notes from the MESA Conference

Hi all,

Dr. Ali and Andrew at the Association for Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Studies (AGAPS) social.

It was a busy November for me. In addition to the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, I also attended the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) meeting in Washington DC. Dr. Ali Al-Shawi (Qatar University) and I have been collaborating on a paper that examines the role that tribes and tribalism play in contemporary Qatar, and we presented the first draft of our findings at the meeting. For me, this paper is a particularly interesting collaboration — Dr. Ali is not only a good friend, but he’s also a member of the Al Murrah tribe. The Al Murrah tribe’s homeland centers upon the France-sized piece of Saudi Arabian desert called the “empty quarter,” and for millennia his ancestors survived and even prospered in that inhospitable environment.

Tribes and tribalism are often portrayed as a pre-modern, “traditional” form of belonging that’s at odds with the modern state, and predictions commonly suggested that tribes would wither as the Gulf States modernized. That’s certainly not the case in Qatar. Our research points to the resurgence of tribalism, and the political role that tribes play in the contemporary social landscape of Qatar. We also focus on the performative element of tribal belonging, and argue that, nowadays, even families from urban and merchant backgrounds are framing themselves as modern tribes. This performance reaches its crescendo on Qatar’s “National Day”: tribes and other large extended families set up celebratory tents all over Qatar to represent themselves on the urban and national stage.

I was also invited by Dr. Ala Al-Hamarneh (University of Mainz) to participate in a thematic discussion exploring neoliberal urbanization in the Middle East. It was a fantastic panel — we had a great conversation that charted many of the unanswered questions about the astonishing urbanization we’re witnessing in the contemporary Gulf States.



CSOC 117: McTakover!

For the second time in many years, the freshman in my course CSOC 117: The Anthropology of Food and Eating took over a local McDonalds. Thanks to Kim Maher, a UPS alumnus and the Local Store Marketing Director for McDonalds, we were invited to come and attempt to operate one of the franchises here in Tacoma. For the past several weeks, the class had been reading James Watson’s book Golden Arches East. In that book, anthropologists use the ethnographic toolkit to explore McDonalds entry into Asia. The chapter authors examine the cultural variations in how people in Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong think about McDonalds and its food, the variations in who makes use of the restaurant, and how McDonalds goes about accommodating a variety of expectations and food choices.

Kanashuwa and Andrew Kranseler at the front counter.

We thought that a great way to cap this reading would be to spend time working in a  McDonalds. With Kim’s invitation, we took over the McDonalds on Tacoma Avenue (and across the street from the jail). Students ran the cash register, stuck hamburger buns in the toaster, ran the “to-go” window, and swept the floors. With some guidance, student Parker Raup even tackled the task of cleaning the bathrooms. Overall, I think we agreed that operating a McDonalds was a bewilderingly complex task. We struggled to manage even the most basic of tasks, and it seems likely that without the steady guidance from the employees we would have failed altogether!


Wrapping Up the American Anthropological Association Meetings

View of Manado, North Sulawesi, from where I was staying. I was just trying to take a photo of the mountain, but wound up capturing a lot of the local TV transmitters too.

When you submit a paper or even a fully organized panel to a big conference like the American Anthropological Association’s, and if you’re lucky enough to be accepted, you never know when during the week you’ll be scheduled to present. ‘Prime time’ is Friday or Saturday (preferably not at 8am) but your panel could be scheduled as early as Wednesday, before most attendees have arrived, or as late as Sunday afternoon, after they’ve all left. A couple weeks ago in Montreal, I was put on the last panel scheduled for the entire AAA conference; literally, the last one in the book! But no matter, we still managed to draw a moderate crowd, and certainly an active one when it came to question time.

Pacific TV's transmitter. This is the station I focused on, arguing it represented a local effort to use broadcasting to insulate Christian minorities from Muslim-normative national TV.

I was on a panel organized by the Society for Visual Anthropology, and though two of our presenters didn’t show up (!) we wound up having a really interesting discussion, and the extra time allowed many of us to go quite a bit longer than the normal 15 minutes. My paper was based on new research I’ve been doing into Christian responses to increasing Muslim normativity on Indonesia’s national television programming. Indonesia is around 90% Muslim, and my previous work into the TV industry examined the rise in representations of Islam in daily life after the fall of Suharto, the pro-Western dictator who ruled the country for 32 years. Since he was forced to leave office, commercial TV has abandoned much of the secular, multiculturalist lens his government enforced, further marginalizing minority populations like Christians and Balinese Hindus.

I got a fisherman to take me to a neighboring island on his motorboat. There the local church broadcasts every night across the whole (rather small) island via a loudspeaker system.

The past three summers, while taking Puget Sound students to Indonesia, I have also been conducting fieldwork into Christian production houses, and now regional TV in Christian-majority areas. In my AAA paper, which I am developing into an article as well, I argued that ethnic Minahasan groups in North Sulawesi use small scale broadcasting to produce “micro-mediascapes” for local minority populations, allowing them to foreground Christian-normative, pro-Western narratives, and push the national and global media presences into an arguably subordinate position. I got a good response from the audience and my panel, as well as some useful criticism.

Can’t wait for San Francisco in 2012 — hope to see you there!

AAA 2011 — Denise Glover

It had been quite a few years since I had attended AAA. It is an overwhelmingly popular event; this year there were apparently over 6,000 attendees! A friend and colleague, Sienna Craig, that I have worked with over the past several years in various forms of collaboration (most recently the special issue of Asian Medicine that I mentioned in my October post) and another friend, Theresia Hofer, organized a panel titledMaking Nationality Medicine Ethnic: Ideologies, Discourses, and Practices, of which my paper was a part. The panel sought to consider ways in which “nationality (or ethnic) medicine” in China interacts with the larger discourse (and practices of) ethnicity. My paper, titled “Shadow Dancing: Ethnic medicine and PRC law,” discusses the way in which ethnic medicines are protected and promoted by particular state laws and argues that support of ethnic medicine (the practice, consumption, and production of) actualizes the guarantees of law and in turn effects perceived ideologies of legal justice of the state—this I see as a form of “shadowing dancing” (hence the title).