Segmentation: Its Roots in Arabia and Its Flowering Elsewhere

Essay Excerpt

The topic of "place and voice" invites anyone concerned with the Middle East and particularly with Arabia to go in search of shapes and figures in Western fantasy, whether in the image of the "Bible lands," in Walterde la Mare, or in the dissatisfactions of Paul Nizan. But let us accept the wager that anthropology has a voice of its own apart from these. We have been invited to discuss the proposition that specifically anthropological concepts move from place to place, with effects on what Appadurai (1986a) terms "metropolitan theory." Segmentation provides an aging and obvious case. The literature this term produced in its travels was enormous, and I have no intention of reviewing it; but such titles as "African Models in the New Guinea Highlands"(Barnes 1962) and "New Guinea Models in the African Savannah" (Karp 1978) agree nough to suggest a certain consciousness of mobility. What I want to do here is to argue that the connection of imagery or concept to location was to start with rather special, and only later was it often reduced to the bafflingly obvious. (Dresch, 50)

About the Author

Dr. Paul Dresch is a Professor of Anthropology at St. John's College.

"I lecture for undergraduate courses in Archaeology and Anthropology and in Human Sciences, as well as to graduate students in Anthropology. I am also the organising tutor for Archaeology and Anthropology at St John's, and I tutor St John's undergraduates in Social Anthropology both for first-year exams and finals.

So far, I have worked and written mainly on the Arab World. My great ethnographic love is Yemen, which I visit regularly. I have also done fieldwork in the United Arab Emirates, and my research students in recent years have worked in Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, as well as Iran and even northern India. My main research interests are in comparative historiography, politics, and (lately) law. For an idea of what I do, see my books "Tribes, Government and History in Yemen" (Oxford 1989) and "A History of Modern Yemen" (Cambridge 2001). More recently I published "The Rules of Barat: texts and translations of tribal documents from Yemen" (Sanaa 2006), which deals with eighteenth-century pacts on customary law. I have also co-edited a number of volumes: with Wendy James and David Parkin, "Anthropologists in a Wider World: essays on field research" (2000); with Pierre Bonte and Edouard Conte, "Emirs et Présidents: figures de la parenté et du politique dans le monde arabe" (2001); and with James Piscatori, "Monarchies and Nations: globalisation and identity in the Arab States of the Gulf" (2005). Among my smaller publications recently is a chapter on nineteenth-century Arabia for Volume 5 of the new "Cambridge History of Islam" (2008)."

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