Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Urbanization and Social Identities in Jordan: The Case of Irbid

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Urbanization and Social Identities in Jordan: The Case of Irbid

Article excerpt


In the last few years, the discourse of identity has spread rapidly within the humanities and social sciences. However, this topic is far from consensus, which is one reason why many debates have been waged over the interpretation of the process of identity construction on both individual and collective levels.

The stable and universal character of the structured relationships constituting the subject has been subjected to various forms of critique. Scholars have begun to stress the discursively constructed character of self and culture. Therefore, identification is interpreted as aprocess of construction that is always in the process of making (Derrida, 1978).

The concept of identity refers in its simplest meaning to the identification of a group of people to themselves in the first instant, and then to the other group(s) living in the same community. Therefore, identity can be best examined between and among different social groups in a well-defined space taking into consideration time as a crucial element in producing specific collective identities in specific historical phases. This indicates the crucial impact of the other, the stranger, and the outsider in defining identity, whether individual or collective. An identity identifies and constructs itself by denying the other, demarcating inside from outside and stretching a distance between us and them (Laclau, 1994).

Urbanization, as a continuous process of change, is considered a crucial factor in shaping and constructing the self identity of a group of people. As a result of urbanization, interactions between and among different social groups increase which lead to the fact that identity will be transformed in form and essence.

The process of urbanization in Irbid began almost by the end of the 1 9th century. Accordingly, dramatic changes took place at both the social structure and the nature of social interactions in the city as it was transformed from a village to a town and later into the second largest city in Jordan. This urban development also brought about a socio-economic change changing Irbid from a community based on simple peasantry tribal economy into a more complex salary-based one.

Taking into consideration the dynamism of all factors (identity, urbanization, space and time) makes the task of contextualization of urban identities much more complex. Ironically, the social history of Irbid is taken in this work as Jelly-like body. Only by this method one can understand the essence of the inner complex changeable dynamics of communities. This approach is completely different from the only study conducted on the history of Irbid during the period (1850-1928) by H. Abu Sha'ar (1995). Despite the fact that the study is rich in its valuable data on various economic, administrative, social and political issues, it lacks a deep social analysis. Data were almost conveyed in a passive way, i.e., in a documentation manner.

This study seeks to explore how identity changes inform and nature according to the degree of urbanization. Therefore, the mainfocus here is how primordial tribal (orfamilial) identities are transformed into urban ones. This is due to both inner factors related to the social fabric of Irbid and external factors related to the Jordanian state intervention and to the adjoining factors like the forced migration of Palestinians into the city of Irbid. As described by Geertz (1973), a primordial attachment stems from the "the assumed givens" of social existence: immediate contiguity and kin connection or from the state of being born into a particular religious, speaking a particular language, or even a dialect of a language, and following particular social practices.

It should be noted here that by "urban" it is meant here, following Wirth's conception, large size, dense and heterogeneous (in Hannerz, 1980: 62-63). The urban center is characterized by a state of anomie, social void and collective behavior tends to be unpredictable. …

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