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The Middle East

Éditeur : New York University Press Date & Lieu : 1981, New York
Préface : Pages : 336
Traduction : ISBN : 0-13-581629-7
Langue : AnglaisFormat : 150x230 mm
Code FIKP : Liv. Eng. Eic. Mid. N°1315Thème : Général

Table des Matières Introduction Identité PDF
The Middle East

The Middle East

Dale F. Eickelman

New York University

What did scholars learn about the Middle East from late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century explorations? How does Islam affect political and social life? How do the society and family life of tribes and towns accommodate to modern traditions? How do earlier cities compare with those of today?

The answers to these probing questions illustrate the topics discussed in The Middle East: An Anthropological Approach. This introduction to the Middle East is based on the author’s Middle Eastern anthropology series for CBS-TV’s “Sunrise Semester.” The material focuses on the contribution which the study of the Middle East is making to the main currents of anthropology, “especially those,” as the author explains, “which relate to the analysis of complex societies.”

Part I —Introduction offers some practical assumptions concerning how the Middle East has been understood in the past; Part II interprets the present and how Middle Easterners see their society and culture; Part [II is concerned with Islam and religious experience; and Part IV assesses the impact of political and economic change.

The book is written for the general reader as well as the student. It deals with inquiry and discovery rather than a review of the literature.


This book is intended as an anthropological introduction to the Middle East. This goal is inseparable from a second, complementary one, that of indicating the contribution which tire study of the Middle East is making to the main currents of anthropology, especially those which relate to the analysis of complex societies. As anthropological scholarship on the major civilizational areas of the world has reached a critical intensity, certain themes have been more emphasized than others. In research on Black Africa in the 1940s and early 1950s, the nature of political order to be found in “stateless” societies was a predominant question. Much of the anthropological study of India has focused on the cultural and social aspects of inequality, and this literature has profoundly influenced the consideration of stratification and social class elsewhere.

Research on the Middle East is beginning to reach a similar critical intensity and several interrelated themes prevail. One group of problems is suggested by the study of Islam and the means by which a world religion is to be understood simultaneously as a universal ideological force and in its rich local manifestations. How does a world religion such as Islam maintain its vitality in rapidly evolving economic and political contexts, and how do local understandings of Islam affect the wider currents of Islamic civilization?

Another set of problems deals with ideas which people hold of their cultural identity. In a region as complex as the Middle East, with interlocking linguistic, ethnic, religious, kin, and class distinctions, the problems of how personal and collective identities are asserted and what they mean in differing historical and political contexts are especially crucial. Such distinctions are much more plastic, than earlier stereotypes concerning their cultural bases have allowed.

A third emerging research focus concerns economic activities—the production and consumption of goods and services. At a general level, shared with other disciplines, this focus involves analyzing the social and cultural impact of developments such as massive labor emigration from poorer countries, the influx of oil and mineral wealth to others, urbanization and land reform, and the shifting circumstances of international politics. A specifically anthropological contribution to these issues concerns the analysis of the cultural values and systems of social relationships associated with forms of economic activity ranging from the Middle Eastern bazaar to “modern” forms of industrial and commercial activities and what happens to values and social relationships in the context of rapid economic and social change.

A fourth research focus concerns changing interpretations of Middle Eastern societies and cultures by Westerners and by Middle Easterners themselves. This problem, once regarded as an historiographic one related only indirectly to “real” anthropological inquiry, is now regarded as implicit in any problem in the human sciences. Ideas concerning what constitutes valid description and interpretation of any culture and society have changed dramatically over the last two centuries, especially as social science has ceased to be primarily a Western or European enterprise.

This book is intended both as a textbook and as an interpretative essay. It is a textbook insofar as it is intended as a self-contained book to introduce students and colleagues to the basic ethnographic themes of the Middle East and the theoretical questions that have been and are being developed by specialists in the region. Although this book is in part necessarily a synthesis of major research, I seek to develop a particular style of anthropological inquiry and show its contribution to the study of a region of complex civilization rather than provide an exhaustive review of the literature. Many textbooks are derivative and unconvincing in that they rarely convey the sense of discovery which leaps from the pages of the more extensive monographs which constitute the central substance of anthropological inquiry. I hope that this book contains enough of the sense of discovery that I have felt in creating it so that readers will be prompted to read it in conjunction with some of the monographs and articles indicated in the footnotes. The footnotes to each section and chapter are designed to be a guide to further readings on particular topics, and for this reason no separate list of further readings is included. To enhance the value of this book as a guide to contemporary anthropological research, I have indicated the best available sources, even when they are in foreign languages. This is deliberately contrary to some of the established conventions of textbook writing. My purpose is to indicate the cutting edge of anthropological and related research for those who wish to pursue given topics.

The outline of this book first took form when I was asked to prepare a series on Middle Eastern anthropology for CBS-TV’s “Sunrise Semester.” As the title of the general series implies, these programs did not exactly reach a prime time audience, but writing them brought me directly in contact with the evasive “general” audience so often evoked but never clearly delineated by academics. I wrote for the series as I would for graduate and undergraduate students (in my own experience the distinction between writing and teaching for these two categories of students is often exaggerated because the critical talents of undergraduates are often not fully appreciated) and for anyone interested in the region and civilizations of the Middle East. From correspondence and conversations it gradually emerged that the decision not to seek to popularize by softening the edges of difficult problems was enthusiastically received by an audience wider than one interested simply in the Middle East or in how anthropology as a discipline can contribute to the study of complex societies. I have tried to use the same approach in this book.

In writing this essay, I have benefited substantially from the critical comments and advice of a number of colleagues and friends. Hildred Geertz of Princeton University read the entire manuscript with a critical intensity which enabled me to strengthen and clarify key points of the essay, especially the sections concerning kinship and cultural identity. Paul J. Sanfafon of the American Museum of Natural History also commented with insight upon the manuscript and coordinated key editorial tasks at a time when my absence from the country might have delayed the appearance of the book. My colleague Karen I. Blu at New York University provided timely and detailed suggestions on most of the manuscript. Jon Anderson, Richard T. Antoun, T. O. Beidelman, Vincent Crapanzano, Bouzekri Draiouiy, Christine Eickelman, Clifford Geertz, Abdellah Hammoudi, Nicholas S. Hopkins, Michael Marcus, Kenneth Sandbank, David M. Schneider, and Delores Walters have also offered useful advice. Except where otherwise noted in the text, the maps have been prepared by Danny Cornyetz. Numerous colleagues have generously allowed me to use photographs and other materials, and such assistance is acknowledged at appropriate places in the text. This book is dedicated to the late Abdul Hamid M. el-Zein, a friend who in his own work sought to make anthropology a self-renewing form of philosophical and social inquiry which could transcend the intellectual traditions of “East” and “West,” an aspiration which I fully share.

Dale F. Eickelman
Hamra’, Sultanate of Oman

Note on transliteration

One of the first books which I read on the Middle East was Carleton Coon’s Caravan.1 As a beginning student of Arabic, I appreciated his careful transcription. It facilitated my identification of unfamiliar terms, and for languages that I did not speak it gave me a general idea of how words were spoken. In a time of publishing economies, the willingness of Prentice-Hall to allow the full transcription of terms from Middle Eastern languages, particularly Arabic, reflects a concern for editorial quality that can no longer be taken for granted. I have in general followed the conventions of the International Journal of Middle East Studies, although in deciding on how to transliterate colloquial terms I have attempted to follow the pronunciation of the area being discussed. For Arabic, the stroke over a vowel indicates it is lengthened: ā as in ma. ī as in bean, and u as in noon; ay as in pay is a diphthong. The emphatic consonants (d, s, t, z, h) are indicated by dots under them; kh is pronounced as in Bach; gh as the r of Parisian French. The c ayn has been rendered with a small, raised c, and the hamza, a glottal stop as in the Brooklynese “bottle,” with an apostrophe (’). Often in spoken language, even in educated speech, the hamza is dropped; but I have included it in transliteration in those instances where it seemed necessary to do so. Except where otherwise noted, only the singular form of Arabic words is indicated, with -s added for plurals. Adjectival forms of many Arabic place names and words are indicated with an T at the end of the word, as Arabic. Words and place names with common English forms appear as they do English and are not fully transliterated. Thus Mecca, not Makka; Fez, not Fas; Quran, not Qur’an; Allah, not Allah; Islam, not Islam; and sultan, not sultan. Richard Bulliet of Columbia University has kindly checked the accuracy of transliterated Persian and Turkish words.

1 Carleton S. Coon, Caravan: The Story of the Middle East, rev. ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1961).


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