Tribes and Tribalism: (Re-)Assessing Society in the Middle East and How We Talk About It

TARII Co-Sponsored Symposium

About the Symposium

Tribal life has been a reality for people in the Middle East as elsewhere in the world for millennia. The essential importance of tribal structures, juxtaposed with the manipulation of tribes by colonial and indigenous governments ("tribalism"), has made tribes the object of deep study by social scientists and historians. The goal of this conference was to re-focus on tribes and the actuality of their functions, and on the experiences of the people who adhere to them, while at the same time weighing these actualities against a critique of the tribalism paradigm.

The symposium addressed a range of subjects from disciplines including history, anthropology, literature and cultural studies, as well as political science that investigate the diversity of social, cultural, economic and political locations of tribal life, as well as evocations, and interpretations of tribalism in the Middle East in past and present. The geographical focus of the symposium was limited to Iraq, Yemen, and Jordan/Syria in order to facilitate debate and enhance comparability on the one hand, and because of the particular currency of these geographical boundaries in the contemporary Middle East. Chronologically, papers focused on the modern period from the 19th century to the present day, while some participants were invited to address long-term perspectives in their papers.

The symposium and discussions were facilitated by Dr. Peter Wien, TARII Board President. It was held at the University of Maryland College Park on May 2-3, 2019.


“No remedies by these: banishment, refuge, and regard among the Balga tribes of Jordan”

  • Dr. Andrew Shryock

“Tribes, Patrilineages, Individual Ontology, and States in the Middle East”

  • Dr. Diane King

“Social and Political Consequences of Surname Confusion in in Saudi Arabia and Iraq”

  • Dr. Nadav Samin

“A Geography of Tribes in Yemen”

  • Dr. Charles Schmitz

“Tribalism in Northern Highland Yemen: Tribes, Rulers, and Revolutions”

  • Dr. Marieke Brandt

“The Emergence of Tribal Literature in Jordan: History, Nationalism, and Social Upheaval”

  • Dr. Yoav Alon

“Playing with fire: the impact of manipulating tribal identities by the authoritarian regimes on the Civil War in Syria”

  • Dr. Haian Dukhan

More information, such as biographies and abstracts, is available at