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The dark matter of tribal belonging: Genealogical representation and practice in Saudi Arabia

This dissertation examines how and why Saudis have documented their genealogies over the past three centuries. Despite the erosion of kinship ties resulting from three centuries of religious conditioning, and despite the unprecedented material transformation of Saudi society in the oil age, genealogy remains a central facet of modern Saudi identity. A rising tide of interest in genealogies has emerged in the kingdom over the past half-century, embodied in the thousands of books, articles, and family trees authored by Saudis to demonstrate their lineal attachment to prominent Arabian tribes. This dissertation investigates the modern genealogical culture of Saudi Arabia by tracing the interaction of two distinct concepts of genealogy, one an historically rooted artifact of Arabia's past, the other an invented tradition fashioned by the modern Saudi state. These two streams combine in the life and work of Hamad al-Jasir, the pre-eminent historian and genealogist of twentieth century Saudi Arabia, whose correspondence with ordinary Saudis uncertain of their tribal origins forms the core of the project.

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  • "This dissertation examines how and why Saudis have documented their genealogies over the past three centuries. Despite the erosion of kinship ties resulting from three centuries of religious conditioning, and despite the unprecedented material transformation of Saudi society in the oil age, genealogy remains a central facet of modern Saudi identity. A rising tide of interest in genealogies has emerged in the kingdom over the past half-century, embodied in the thousands of books, articles, and family trees authored by Saudis to demonstrate their lineal attachment to prominent Arabian tribes. This dissertation investigates the modern genealogical culture of Saudi Arabia by tracing the interaction of two distinct concepts of genealogy, one an historically rooted artifact of Arabia's past, the other an invented tradition fashioned by the modern Saudi state. These two streams combine in the life and work of Hamad al-Jasir, the pre-eminent historian and genealogist of twentieth century Saudi Arabia, whose correspondence with ordinary Saudis uncertain of their tribal origins forms the core of the project."@en
  • "At the heart of the kingdom's modern genealogical culture is the compulsion many Saudis feel to claim tribal belonging. At the social level, I argue, this compulsion reflects the transition from the predominantly oral cultural environment of pre-modern Arabia to the new textually oriented, bureaucratically influenced society of the modern kingdom, in which the capacity to identify or produce texts that credibly affirm one's tribal belonging has become an important marker of authenticity and authority. At the political level, I argue further, this compulsion is the outcome of a strategy of the Saudi state, which has sought to condition its bedouin- and sedentary-origin populations toward a locally resonant and materially useful notion of national belonging. Through its strategies and practices, the state has breathed new life into tribal identity and tribal association, rendering it one of the only meaningful forms of civic association permissible in the kingdom. Drawing together these two streams, this dissertation examines how ordinary Saudis have negotiated social and political pressures to affirm their tribal affiliations against a bleak historiographical landscape."@en

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  • "The dark matter of tribal belonging: Genealogical representation and practice in Saudi Arabia"@en