Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

BEDOUINS: Nomadic Societies in the Middle East and North Africa Entering the 21st Century

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

BEDOUINS: Nomadic Societies in the Middle East and North Africa Entering the 21st Century

Article excerpt

BEDOUINS Nomadic Societies in the Middle East and North Africa Entering the 21st Century, ed. by Dawn Chatty. Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2006. xlii + 1060 pages. Photos. Gloss, to p. xlii. Index to p. 1060. $399.

Reviewed by Sebastian Maisel

Dawn Chatty took on a serious, often unappreciated task when she agreed to edit this almost 1,100-page long compilation of masterpieces of scholarly work on the Bedouin, tribal pastoralists, and other nomadic groups of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The volume of scholarly work Chatty has produced on the current situation of nomadic societies in the Middle East is both a milestone and a caesura.

Handbooks usually take a long time to complete, and their half-life period runs out quickly. However, the authors pushed the historical timeframe to the limits, while assessing current trends and developments within communities that are difficult to examine due to the lack of "hard" evidence, i.e. written source material. Many of the articles are based on fine extensive ethnographic fieldwork that blends in with other historical, linguistic, and literary research methodologies.

This "Festschrift" of nomadic studies includes 36 international contributors, many of whom are still conducting fieldwork among nomadic groups. The ongoing collaboration and criticism during the edition helped to bring the final result to the highest standards of academic research. The inclusiveness of this book unites the whole variety of international anthropological/ethnographic schools - the American, British, French, German, Israeli, Italian, and, most welcomed, Arabic as well. If there is one reason to complain, then maybe it is that the indigenous voices, such as Faiz al-Musa, deserve a bigger audience.

Chatty's introduction refers to the objectives of the book; the long and often discussed question of why we need to study nomadic groups despite regular accusations of being backwards, inferior, and abusive to the ecology of the area. But, these nomads do not do us the favor of simply vanishing or being absorbed by urbanization or modernization. Their number remains more or less the same, in spite of predictions to the contrary. Many of these stereotypical assumptions are challenged in this work. They also include another "hot topic," the terminology of what is a Bedouin and what is a tribe, which was previously discussed in length in Stefan Leder (2000).1

The book is organized in four larger parts representing current areas of contestation: authority and power; spaces and social transformations; development and economic transformations; and cultures and engendered spaces. Part I is devoted to the examination of the relationship between nomadic/ tribal and the settled and often non-tribal state. The range of contentions includes a variety of aspects, such as military conflicts (Anthony Toth), identity (John Shoup), elections (Cedric Parizot), and legal affairs (Frank Stewart and Baudouin Dupret).

In the second part of the book, the authors examine social change among larger areas (William and Fidelity Lancaster) and individual groups (Donald Cole), where the latter points out correctly, that the old way of life is gone, yet many aspects of the old society and culture continue in new settings (p. 370). Of particular interest is the conclusion of Barbara Casciarri's chapter on the Ait Unzar pastoralists in Morocco, convincingly contesting the argument of Bedouin responsibility for resource degradation. …

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