Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Modern Sociocultural Significance of the Jordanian Bedouin Tent

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Modern Sociocultural Significance of the Jordanian Bedouin Tent

Article excerpt


This paper seeks primarily to investigate the spatial features of the Bedouin tent (known as bayt al-[sha.sup.c]r) and their sociocultural implications among the Huwaitat Bedouin community in southern Jordan. It employs an anthro-architectural framework of analysis, and demonstrates that the relationship between the physical and sociocultural realms is highly dynamic and intertwined. The tent is conceived of as more than a place but rather a social arena where social values and norms are constantly produced and reproduced. Furthermore, the paper examines some of the major transformations, particularly in terms of structure and function, that the tent has lately undergone.

Keywords: Jordan, Bedouin, tent, spatial-social, national signifier


The study of Bedouin communities in the Middle East has over the years drawn the attention of many scholars and researchers. However, to be or to become Bedouin seems to mean different things for different people, as well as for scholars. Several scholars (Abu-Lughod 1988; Alon 2005; Bocco 2006; Cole 2003; Eickelman 1998; Lancaster and Lancaster 1998; Lavie 1990; Tapper 1997), have examined how both the applications and implications of the term 'Bedouin' are used broadly and loosely. This new body of scholarship introduces new tools and frameworks for studying nomadic communities in modern nation states. As William and Fidelity Lancaster note, 'the common equation of "nomad = pastoralist = tribal" comes from a confusion of categories and does not stand up to scrutiny ...; the three factors of movement, economic pursuit and sociopolitical system may coincide, but equally they may not--and they do not in the Arab World where the term "bedu" complicates the issue further' (1998: 24). Similarly, Layne (1994) points out that several terms such as 'tribe', 'Bedouin', 'nomad', 'pastoralist' and 'desert Arab' are often used interchangeably. She adds that in Jordanian nationalist discourse and tourist-directed rhetoric, the 'Bedouin' represent the archetypical Arab 'tribe' and frequently stand for Arab or Jordanian tribes in general. Within the same context, Bocco (2006) argues that the term 'bedouin', in Jordan in particular, once a synonym for pastoral nomad, now indicates a political identity of a tribal nature.

Among the main topics which have recently been placed high on scholars' agenda of interest and research are the sociocultural values and meanings that Bedouins construct and attach to place. In the midst of the major transformations that are taking place in Bedouin communities in response to intensifying waves of sedentarization and modernization, Bedouins find it necessary to maintain social and economic balances between the modern and traditional lifestyles.

The Bedouin tent lies at the heart of the Bedouin lifestyle. Indeed, it is more than a simple shelter and place to sleep or meet guests. It is a whole sphere where sociocultural values are constantly produced and reproduced. As will be shown in this paper, the physical features of the tent reflect many aspects of the Bedouin socioeconomic realms and reveal many elements of the Bedouin culture in general.

Rethinking Place

Anthropology has always been interested in the concepts of space and place interrelationships. Terms such as 'space', 'place' and 'landscape' denote a spatial praxis in an ongoing process, rather than fixed and static objects. In the anthropological literature, a distinction is usually made between space (physical space) and place (social construction). However, anthropologists have recently become much preoccupied with the 'placelessness' of culture. The global circulation of capital, people, ideas, commodities and technologies has greatly contributed to questioning the taken-for-granted spatial narratives and arrangements. Cultures are no longer conceived of as bounded and closed entities. Thus, conventional dichotomies of 'inside vs. …

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