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Enduring Authority: Kinship, State Formation, and Resource Distribution in the Arab Gulf Open Access

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Why is kinship more politically salient in some states than others? Why does the political salience of kinship identity vary across states with similar forms of governance? While existing work describes why kinship retains salience in the first place (Anderson 1986, Layne, 1994), there is little work explaining variation in this salience. One set of existing explanations for the salience of kinship highlight incomplete state penetration that leaves room for competing authority structures like kinship (Scott, 1977; Herbst, 2000, Posner, 2005). Other accounts draw upon modernization theory (Wittfogel, 1957; Inkeles and Smith, 1974) or patrimonialism (Charrad and Adams, 2011) for causal leverage. While these accounts help explain the existence of kinship salience, they tend to essentialize kinship rather than understanding it on its own terms. This dissertation argues that patterns of access to resources prior to state formation account for this variation. Where cooperative access existed, different kin groups came together to form “proto-bureaucracies” for allocating resources. As a result, the political salience of kinship identity weakened. In contrast, where competitive access existed, kinship groups controlled areas of land in which these resources were located. Since there was no need for coordination, there were no proto-bureaucracies and kinship identity remained strongly salient. The dissertation illustrates the validity of this model in Kuwait and Oman based on seven months of field work involving research in ten archival volumes, translating eighteen local histories, and conducting semi-structured interviews with 52 subjects. In Oman, tribes settled in villages and engaged in agriculture. Water was provided through channels called aflaj. Managing the aflaj required administration, so Omanis constructed proto-bureaucracies to allocate water, maintain infrastructure, and mediate disputes within the system. Following the 1970 coup in Oman, the Ministry of Interior assumed jurisdiction over the aflaj bureaucracies. The result was a bureaucratic system in which these administrations were put under the jurisdiction of the Department of Aflaj Affairs in the Ministry of Water Resources. In Kuwait, tribes were dispersed throughout the desert regions surrounding Kuwait City. Each tribe controlled an area of land called a dirah within which it also controlled access to water resources. During state formation, Kuwait’s leadership reached out to these groups in order to gain influence over their territory and fighting men. However, by reaching out to them as kinship groups, the leadership perpetuated the salience of kinship. Even after state formation, the Kuwaiti government granted citizenship to tribal groups but did so on the basis of their tribal identity. Efforts to lower the influence of kinship following this period proved unsuccessful. This research speaks to debates about governance in state with traditional authority structures. It also makes contributions to contemporary scholarship on patronage politics as well as studies of ethnic identity.

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