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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/7bkn-1w05

technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Sanduk as Survival Among Sudanese Migrant Workers in Beirut



middle east


Communities characterized by hierarchical and dependent relations are cast as inherently oppressive within dominant emancipatory liberal frameworks that privilege notions of freedom and independence. As international humanitarian and development institutions aim to redistribute wealth on a global scale, they are often at pains to emphasize that it is not a “gift” that could create dependency, antithetical as it is to the idealized figure of the unfettered, self-determining individual as the proper subject of liberal ethical life. Such logics, however, exist in tension in places where patronage and dependency are valued as the necessary means of wealth redistribution, guided by collective moral and ethical obligations that often reinforce hierarchical interdependence between subjects aspiring to forms of ethical life. Through ethnographic examples from Africa and the Middle East, this panel examines lived relations of patronage and dependency within Muslim-majority communities and the religious idioms and ethics within which they are articulated. Drawing upon and expanding recent scholarly debates on Islamic development, charity, and distributive relations, the panel aims to offer a fresh investigation of the classic anthropological question about how and why certain ethical communities may work to sustain, rather than eliminate, social hierarchies. The first paper contrasts conflicting notions of “sustainability” within the work of two Islamic development organizations in Tanzania: one beholden to the narrow temporality of global development funding cycles, where “sustainability” entails short-term inputs designed to inhibit dependency, and another supported by pious charitable donations where “sustainability” means long-term relations of wealth redistribution and care. In turn, the second paper examines how shifting moral claims concerning Islamic almsgiving shape hierarchical patronage relations between Syrian refugees and shaweesh (refugee camp headmen) in Lebanon, marked by a tension between the imperative of economic accumulation, on one hand, and a pious obligation toward wealth redistribution, on the other. The third paper examines the social and material relations that guide Sudanese migrants' "sanduk" (mutual aid) societies in Beirut, including how generational and gendered forms of hierarchy are reproduced through and structure conditions of migrant communal survival, and how ethical life factors into these relations of communal co-dependence, both as a mutual aspiration and as a marker of difference/exclusion. The fourth paper analyzes the voluntary submission of agricultural labor within Senegalese daara residential communities, framed as it is within both a Sufi devotional idiom embedded in hierarchical shaykh-disciple relationships as well as liberalized notions of the economy invoked alongside the receipt of international development funds. The fifth paper examines the network of moral interdependencies constituting agricultural day-labor in Syria before the 2011 war, and how Syria's market liberalization reconfigured these networks, producing new tensions and contradictions between domestic economies of care and previous forms of cooperation.


Transcript English (automatic)

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