Verstehen/Einfühlen in Arabian Sands

Wilfred Thesiger as Traveler and Anthropologist

in Journeys
Author: Marielle Risse
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Using Geertz's Verstehen/Einfühlen distinction, this article begins with an overview of the travel writing and anthropological work about Oman, concentrating on the southern region of Dhofar. The article then situates Wilfred Thesiger's classic Arabian Sands ([1959] 1991) within these two genres as an example of a writer who is able to show understanding for and empathy with his Bedu traveling companions. Thesiger's Verstehen is demonstrated through comparing the details he gives of Bedu culture with current manifestations. His Einfühlen is shown through his overarching concern for his companions and his respectful descriptions of their life, avoiding the typical Victorian condescension toward “natives“ and the self-absorbed gushing of many modern travel writers. Based on seven years of studying the culture of southern Oman, the article argues that Thesiger's writing shows a rare combination of accuracy and empathy, which elevates his book to a model of both anthropological and travel writing.

Journeys

The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing

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