Fertile Bonds: Bedouin Class, Kinship, and Gender in the Bekaa Valley

Fertile Bonds: Bedouin Class, Kinship, and Gender in the Bekaa Valley

Fertile Bonds: Bedouin Class, Kinship, and Gender in the Bekaa Valley

Fertile Bonds: Bedouin Class, Kinship, and Gender in the Bekaa Valley


"Provides rich new ethnographic material on a little-known population, the Bedouin of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. It positions such marginal populations in the broader theoretical context of modernization and health and demographic transitions."--Allan G. Hill, Harvard University

With an average of over nine children per family, older cohorts of Bedouin in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon have one of the highest fertility rates in the world. Many married couples in this pastoral community are close relatives--a socially advantageous practice that reflects the deep value Bedouins place on kinship.

To outsiders, such family norms can seem disturbing, even premodern. They attract assumptions of Arab "backwardness," poverty, and sexism. Remarkably, Fertile Bonds flips these stereotypes. Anthropological demographer Suzanne Joseph shows that in this particular group, prolific birth rates coincide with moderate death rates and high levels of nutrition. Despite broader class differences between Bedouins and peasants, members of Bekaa Bedouin society rely heavily on kinship ties, sharing, and reciprocity and experience a high degree of social and demographic equality.

This story, unfamiliar to many, is one that is fading as traditional nomadic livelihoods give way to encapsulation within the state. With the help of this surprising, nuanced study--one of the first of its kind in the Middle East--knowledge of such marginalized pastoral groups will not vanish with the disappearance of their way of life. Joseph's book expands our understanding of peoples far removed from consolidated government control and provides a broad analytical lens through which to examine demographic divides across the globe.


Vital demographic events are at once global and deeply personal. On a personal level, demographic events include if, when, and whom we marry and sometimes divorce; if, when, and how many children we have; and why and when we die. On a global scale, much attention has recently been paid to the demographic divide, or the gulf in birth and death rates among the world’s inhabitants. On the one side are poor countries with relatively high fertility rates and low life expectancies. On the other side are wealthy countries with fertility rates so low that population decline and rapid aging are expected. a primary reason for concern over the global demographic divide is not simply the differential pace of population growth but the disparities in human health, economic well-being, and future prosperity implied by these demographic trends. Reducing demographic and health disparities are social-justice issues of concern to social scientists, public-health professionals, policymakers, and the general public.

As a social-justice issue, the demographic divide is believed to contain within itself the seeds of its own problem and apropos solution. Poverty and inequality are frequently depicted as consequences of population growth. Economist and founder of modern demography Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834) argued that because of the “natural” imbalance between too many people and too few resources to support them, poverty, misery, and a Hobbesian-like war of all against all are always lurking on the human horizon. the only way to avoid this ill-fated predicament is to delay marriage and reproduction while keeping in check sexual activity prior to marriage. Malthus saw high fertility, which persists in some parts of the global South today, as a negative force that generates pauperism, disease, and death and threatens sustainable economic growth. Malthusianism/neo-Malthusianism continues to shape how we perceive poor peoples and their increase. Modern concerns over population growth can still, in large part, be attributed to racist and classist fears that the Third . . .

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