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22 March 2011


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Would it be fair to say that the major implication of tribalism is the constraints it puts on modalities of social organization--so, in other words, it's difficult to organize along the basis of occupation (e.g., factory-workers)?
I realize the topic is complex, but I'm wondering if that isn't one of the major implications.


thanks for posting this, but it surely will take time to take a closer look.


Thanks for posting this. I will begin my study.

dan bradburd

Just what a tribe is and how to understand them is a large and interesting topic on which my tribe, anthropologists, have spilled much ink.

One really good starting place is Morton Fried's classic work, The Notion of Tribe, (1975.)

There is a considerable literature on tribe and tribe and state in the Middle East.

Two pieces of mine that are more or less accessible are and directly address the question are:

D. Bradburd
2001 Nomads And Tribes As A Cause Of State Weakness In Iran: A Contrary View. In Nomads in the Sedentary World, A. Khazanov and A. Wink, eds. Curzon.Press.

1987 Tribe, State, and History: Recent Views of The Past from Southwest Asia. Nomadic Peoples 23:57 71.

An excellent collection with some very good papers is:

Richard Tapper, The Conflict of Tribe and State in Iran and Afghanistan

Philip Khoury and Joseph Kostiner, Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East, is another interesting edited collection, though to my view many of the essays show a lack of understanding of the process of state formation.

Martin van Bruinessen, Agha, Shaikh and State: The Social and Political Structures of Kurdistan is an outstanding book that shows in real detail the interplay of state and tribe over time.

Madawi Al Rasheed Politics in an Arabian Oasis: The Rashidi Tribal Dynasty is another fine study and a nice look at the formation of modern Saudi Arabia.

Works by Emrys Peters on the Bedouin of Cyrenaica, including The Bedouin of Cyrenaica (1990)are nice accounts of 'traditional' tribal structure in Libya.

Lisa Anderson has also written on tribe and state in Libya.

Various articles by Henry Munson on tribes and peasants in Morocco are worth reading.

Various works by W. Lancaster on the Rwala Bebouin, including The Rwala Bedouin Today (1981) also look at tribal structure and its place within a modernizing state.

In looking at any of this, it is useful to remember Kipling's ditty: "therea are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays. And every single one of them is right." Or, more importantly, there is enormous variation across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, ranging from groups that seem almost egalitarian and have segmentary lineages through those that would have been considered states in their own right anywhere else in the world.

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