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On “tribes” and bribes

“Iraq tribal study,” al-Anbar's awakening, and social science

Roberto J. González

The concept of the “tribe” has captured the imagination of military planners, who have been inspired partly by social scientists. Interest in tribes stems from events in Iraq's al-Anbar province, where the US military has co-opted Sunni “tribal” leaders. Some social scientists have capitalized on these developments by doing contract work for the Pentagon. For example, the “Iraq tribal study”—prepared by a private company consisting of anthropologists and political scientists among others—suggests employing colonial-era techniques (such as divide and conquer) for social control. It also advocates bribing local leaders, a method that has become part of the US military's pacification strategy. Such imperial policing techniques are likely to aggravate armed conflict between and among ethnic groups and religious sects. Observers report that the US strategy is creating a dangerous situation resembling the Lebanese civil war, raising ethical questions about social scientists' involvement in these processes.

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Scheduling tribes

A view from inside India's ethnographic state

Townsend Middleton

Venturing into an ethnography of government anthropologists themselves, this article interrogates the bureaucratic inner workings and actual agents of today's “ethnographic state." By engaging with the civil servants who verify India's Scheduled Tribes, I explore the politics of “tribal“ recognition from the inside out. This perspective lends timely insight into the logistical, political, and epistemological difficulties integral to the functioning-and current crisis-of India's affirmative action system. Weighing the demands of “tribal“ recognition through those that arguably know them best-government anthropologists themselves- this study examines the human dimension (and dilemmas) of the Indian state and its affirmative action system for Scheduled Tribes.

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‘You Have Car Insurance, We Have Tribes’

Negotiating Everyday Life in Basra and the Re-emergence of Tribalism

Hayder Al-Mohammad

This article explores the ways in which Basrans make their way in the world and examines how they negotiate certain situations that they encounter. One important means by which problems are dealt with in Basra is through recourse to one's tribe to mediate and resolve issues and sometimes even to protect an individual or family. I turn to ethnographic instances to highlight both the importance and capriciousness of tribes with respect to extending help when it is required. I then aim to show why tribalism has re-emerged within Iraq as a potent social and political force by reference to the shifting historical situation of the last 50 years.

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Upward mobility in a forgotten tribe

Notes on the "creamy layer" problem

Megan Moodie

Public discussions of recent demands by the Gujjars of Rajasthan, India, for inclusion on the list of the state's affirmative action beneficiaries have often veered away from the legitimacy of their claims and toward whether elite Gujjar leaders can speak for less educated and less affluent community members. This article examines how this latter set of questions-often described as the “creamy layer“ problem in reference to a group's elite who have “risen to the top“ and need to be “skimmed off“-can obscure the real workings of affirmative action on the ground and the limitations encountered by groups seeking upward mobility. Ethnographic research with the Dhanka tribe reveals deep concerns that upwardly mobile groups are in danger of downward mobility without the protection of affirmative action-based hiring practices, and that middle class elites within the tribe can be important political advocates for others within the community.

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Aref Abu-Rabia

The main purpose of this article is to describe traditional breastfeeding practices among the pastoral tribes in the Middle East. It also examines beliefs and attitudes towards breastfeeding and related issues, including pregnancy, infections of the breast nipple, sources of milk, 'bad milk' syndrome and breastfeeding as a contraceptive method. The most significant findings are that mothers relate breastfeeding to their physical and psychological state. There are also symbolic and emotional relationships between human babies and the colostrum of animals. A survey of medicinal cures for problems related to breastfeeding reveals that these cures are based on substances found in the desert pastoral environment.

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Tolganay Umbetalijeva

This article is devoted to an investigation of the 'feeling of membership' of certain subtribes and tribes that is typical of the cultural and social memory of traditional Kazakhs. Our empirical study found that people in present-day Kazakhstan are strongly interested in their social and historical roots and traditions and in a sense of tribal (zhuzal) belonging. This tendency is most probably a result of the necessity for Kazakhs to find a new self-identification, as the old one has been destroyed. Along with the development of traditional values, there has been a growth of Western innovations and cultural values in Kazakh society. We examine the interlacing of old values and ideas with new motives and ways of social activity, a process that has affected societal behaviour in everyday life.

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Marieke Brandt

Khawlān and Jumā'ah are two out of eight tribes of the Khawlān b. 'Āmir confederation in Southwest Arabia, the territories of five of them being in Yemen and three in Saudi Arabia. Whereas the Yemeni tribes Munabbih, Sahār and Rāzih are well explored, little is known about the tribal structures of Jumā'ah and the homonymous tribe Khawlān. This article provides an overview of the present-day tribal structures of Khawlān and Jumā'ah, and traces their historical formation through comparison with the respective information available in the historical and geographical works of the Yemeni geographer and historian al-Hasan al-Hamdānī, dating back to the tenth century AD. The results of this study show that Jumā'ah and Khawlān were historically open to processes of social, spatial and genealogical changes. Whereas Jumā'ah can trace its lineage directly back to the ancestor Khawlān b. 'Āmir, Khawlān tribe represents a much looser entity of mutual alliances, which corresponds to its lack of genealogical coherence. Among Khawlān and Jumā'ah, the rhetoric of shared 'ancestry' is thus to a greater or a lesser extent a statement of identity and follows the general Middle Eastern practice in conceptualising groups as kin.

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Aref Abu-Rabia, Salman Elbedour and Sandra Scham

The continuing practice of polygynous marriage on the part of the Bedouin of the Negev in Israel is generally seen as resistance to modernity for the sake of maintaining semi-nomadic ways of life. By this logic, the numerous anthropological studies that have shown that polygyny is more widespread among older generations (particularly among men of means) can be explained. In Israel, however, there is an added factor of modernity as enforced by the state and its alien Western values. Recent studies of the Bedouin in Israel have found that polygyny is on the increase among all age groups, regardless of their socio-economic status. This article addresses this seemingly surprising finding, discussing some of the main social and political motivations that underlie the growing prevalence of polygyny as exhibited by the Bedouin in Israel.

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Sally Falk Moore

Gluckman's approach to case studies is seen as a pivotal moment in the history of social anthropology. The shift was from normative accounts of structure to the tracking of sequences of events. An example from the author's study of happenings on Kilimanjaro illustrates the complex factors that enter a processual approach. Some dimensions of a century of social history can be seen to surround the struggle over a piece of property.

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The social life of categories

Affirmative action and trajectories of the indigenous

Bengt G. Karlsson

In this article I examine the ways in which the term “indigenous peoples“ is reworked in a specific South Asian context. I focus on the new, hybrid category of “indigenous tribe“ in the Indian state of Meghalaya. I argue that we can think of the indigenous tribe category as a strategic conflation of two different regimes of rights or political assertions. The first relates to the existing nation-state framework for affirmative action as expressed in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, while the second relates to the emerging global framework for asserting the rights of indigenous peoples. While the benefits of asserting the status of indigenous tribes is obvious, for example, preventing other, nonindigenous tribes from owning land in the state, the long-term gains seems more doubtful. Both affirmative action programs and indigenous peoples frameworks are motivated by a moral imperative to redress historical injustices and contemporary social inequalities. To evoke them for other ends might eventually backfire. The larger point I seek to make, however, is that political categories tend to take on a life of their own, escaping their intended purposes and hence applied by people in novel and surprising ways.