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Of Sand or Soil:
Genealogy and Tribal Belonging in Saudi Arabia
Nadav Samin

Runner-Up for the 2016 British-Kuwait Friendship Society Book Prize in Middle Eastern Studies

Hardcover | 2015 | $39.50 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691164441
304 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 15 halftones. 1 map.
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Why do tribal genealogies matter in modern-day Saudi Arabia? What compels the strivers and climbers of the new Saudi Arabia to want to prove their authentic descent from one or another prestigious Arabian tribe? Of Sand or Soil looks at how genealogy and tribal belonging have informed the lives of past and present inhabitants of Saudi Arabia and how the Saudi government's tacit glorification of tribal origins has shaped the powerful development of the kingdom’s genealogical culture.

Nadav Samin presents the first extended biographical exploration of the major twentieth-century Saudi scholar Ḥamad al-Jāsir, whose genealogical studies frame the story about belonging and identity in the modern kingdom. Samin examines the interplay between al-Jāsir’s genealogical project and his many hundreds of petitioners, mostly Saudis of nontribal or lower status origin who sought validation of their tribal roots in his genealogical texts. Investigating the Saudi relationship to this opaque, orally inscribed historical tradition, Samin considers the consequences of modern Saudi genealogical politics and how the most intimate anxieties of nontribal Saudis today are amplified by the governing strategies and kinship ideology of the Saudi state.

Challenging the impression that Saudi culture is determined by puritanical religiosity or rentier economic principles, Of Sand or Soil shows how the exploration and establishment of tribal genealogies have become influential phenomena in contemporary Saudi society. Beyond Saudi Arabia, this book casts important new light on the interplay between kinship ideas, oral narrative, and state formation in rapidly changing societies.

Nadav Samin is visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College.

Reviews:

"Samin has produced one of the best monographs on Saudi culture and society and their relationship with the state."--Jörg Matthias Determann, Comparative Islamic Studies

"An outstanding addition to the literature of modern Saudi Arabia that also serves to put the whole contemporary analysis of retribalization into a much broader context. Samin successfully demonstrates that despite religious, political, and economic forces that diminished tribal institutions, cross-pressures countered those trends, and in the process a culture of genealogy combined with a bureaucratic genealogical rule of governance to lead Saudis to assert tribal descent . . . and so establish their ancient roots in the Arabian Peninsula."--Calvin H. Allen, Jr., PhD, Middle East Media & Book Reviews

"Of Sand or Soil is guaranteed to set one thinking. . . . [I]t is a measure of the book’s worth that it suggests several lines of inquiry. [Samin] is to be congratulated . . . on a very well-written book, [and] . . . to be commended for productive fieldwork [in Saudi Arabia] requiring moral stamina."--P. Dresch, American Historical Review

"The detailed historical and archival work and the deep ethnographic research shine throughout the book. . . . Of Sand or Soil is a welcome contribution to scholarship on Saudi Arabia, one that challenges the arguments of some of the most recent works in the field."--R. Bsheer, Arab Studies Journal

"Samin’s book . . . forces us to see Saudi society with new eyes. It shatters many stereotypes abundant among people in the west and the Arab world about the kingdom and leads us to reconsider outdated anthropological myths. . . . An indispensible tool for better understanding Saudi Arabia."--S. Maisel, SOAS Bulletin

More reviews

Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xi
Note on Transliteration xiii
Introduction 1
Chapter One Ḥamad al-Jāsir: A Life in Context 19
Chapter Two The Dark Matter of Tribal Belonging 53
Chapter Three The Oracle of al-Wurūd: Ḥamad al-Jāsir’s Genealogical Correspondence 79
Chapter Four Marriage and Lineal Authentication 115
Chapter Five Parallel Migrations, Divergent Destinations 136
Chapter Six Toward a Genealogical Rule of Governance 165
Conclusion 201
Notes 205
Bibliography 255
Index 271

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