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Essential Reading: State Building and Regime Security in Jordan

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[Editors’ Note: This is the first in a series of “Essential Readings,” in which we ask contributors to choose a list of must-read books, articles, and new media resources on a variety of topics. These are not meant to be comprehensive lists, but rather starting points for readers who want to read more about particular topics. Ziad Abu-Rish, a Co-Editor of Jadaliyya, provides a list of readings focusing on state building and regime security in Jordan. Some of Abu-Rish’s own writing on Jordan can be found here and here.]

Two themes have dominated historical and contemporary accounts of state building in Jordan. The first is the idea that Jordan is an "artificial" state, with little grounding in what allegedly makes other states "real." The second is the suggestion that politics in Jordan are characterized less by political activism or popular mobilization, and more by either brute monarchical violence or blind allegiance to the monarchy.

The readings included in this list offer important challenges to these portrayals. On the one hand, they illustrate the internalization of the Jordanian nation-state as a form of political sociability. Put differently, the success of the Hashemite regime in maintaining its rule, as well as the nature of various reformist and anti-regime mobilizations, had little to do with an alleged "identity-state misfit" and instead reflect the successful reification of a Jordanian identity, some mechanisms of which are detailed in these readings. 

On the other hand, these readings also highlight the centrality of regime-opposition dynamics in the construction of various political and economic institutional arrangements in Jordan. Such dynamics were not exclusively defined by authoritarian violence, but also included repertoires of contentious politics, the creation and incorporation of various social bases as a strategy of regime security, and the appropriation and co-optation of oppositional symbols, personalities, and policies.

Relative to other Levantine Arab states, Jordan has received little attention from scholars. In some ways, this has made the selection of five essential readings easier, as there is less to choose from. But in other ways, it makes the task difficult, given that there aren't that many more works that would count as essential and their exclusion from the list thus seems arbitrary. Of particular note in this case is Pete Moore's Doing Business in the Middle East: Politics and Economic Crisis in Jordan and Kuwait. However, due to the comparative nature of the work and the reading list's emphasis specifically on Jordan, its exclusion was difficult yet unavoidable.

Betty S. Anderson, Nationalist Voices in Jordan: The Street and the State (University of Texas Press, 2005)
Anderson traces the trajectory of regime-opposition dynamics between the 1920s and 1950s through a historical focus on the Jordanian Nationalist Movement, a collection of leftist political parties. Rather than viewing Jordanian institution building and nationalist rhetoric as a function of top-down measures, this book demonstrates the ways in which regime-opposition conflict was central to defining the contours of Jordan's political, military, economic, and educational institutions.
 
Joseph A. Massad, Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan (Columbia University Press, 2001)
Massad traces the role of legal discourses and practices in the construction of a Jordanian national subject. However, his argument also highlights the ways in which Jordanian law was repeatedly reformed — and thus its subject refashioned — in order to account for changes in the geographic scope and demographic composition of the Jordanian state as they related to developments in Palestine, focusing in particular upon the events of 1948, 1967, 1987, and 1993.
 
Anne Mariel Peters and Pete W. Moore, "Beyond Boom and Bust: External Rents, Durable Authoritarianism, and Institutional Adaptation in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan" (Studies in Comparative International Development, July 24, 2009)
Peters and Moore explore the relationship between the Hashemite regime and its socio-political base of support through an examination of side-payment distributional coalitions. They explore the creation and transformation of institutions designed to manage such distribution within the context of both shifting sources of external rents and changing demands of a coalition made up of varying economic policy preferences.
 
Curtis R. Ryan, Jordan in Transition: From Hussein to Abdullah (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002)
Ryan argues that the economic and political reforms initiated in Jordan, starting in the late 1980s, were a function of the regime's crisis of capital accumulation, IMF- and World Bank-sponsored structural adjustment programs, and the regime’s response to wide-spread revolt in reaction to both the crisis and the adjustments intended to address it. His analysis highlights the ways in which economic and political reform were always premised on regime security and thus resulted in the development of new processes, institutions, and groups that strengthened rather than weakened the Hashemite authoritarian system of rule.
 
Jillian Schwedler, "Jordan's Risky Business as Usual" (Middle East Report Online, June 30, 2010)
Schwedler takes the 2010 Election Law as an opportunity to discuss the ways in which the regime has managed electoral contestation in Jordan. The article highlights important differences between the 2010 Law and the previous election laws, while identifying the ways in which core practices of empowering regime supporters persist in the new election laws.
 
Quintan Wiktorowicz, "The Limits of Democracy in the Middle East: The Case of Jordan" (Middle East Journal, Autumn 1999)
This article examines the ways in which the legal architecture of authoritarian regimes are able to create limited yet controlled space for political activity within the context of political and economic reforms. Wiktorowicz specifically examines regime-society dynamics in Jordan with reference to voluntary organizations, demonstrations, the press, and formal political institutions.

2 comments for "Essential Reading: State Building and Regime Security in Jordan"

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One serious omission from this list is Andrew Shryock's "Nationalism and the Genealogical Imagination" which is an ethnographic account of what might be loosely termed "tribalist nationalism" which constructs itself in opposition to liberal nationalism in Jordan. Instead of the official and/or elite discourses considered by the authors listed, this book looks at the populist nationalism of trans-Jordanian tribalists, an essential component of the current political scene.

Yazan Doughan wrote on April 10, 2011 at 07:09 AM
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@Yazan: Thanks for your comment. Shryock's book is a must-read work for anyone interested in contemporary politics in Jordan as well as nationalism in both Jordan and the broader Middle East. However, this reading list was not specifically about nationalism nor a generalized theme of current politics. It was particularly focused on the specifics of Jordan's authoritarian system of rule (i.e., its institutions and logics), which is more the  focus of the works I included and less the focus (though relevant) to Shryock's work. We are planning future reading lists dealing with Jordan, in particular on the themes of nationalism and contentious politics. You can be sure to expect Shryock and other authors' works to be included in those lists. We invite you to suggest additional themes and specific works that you find important.

Ziad Abu-Rish wrote on April 10, 2011 at 01:46 PM

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