Sunday, March 6, 2016

Emily McKee's "Dwelling in Conflict"

Emily McKee is Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department and the Institute for the Study of Environment, Sustainability, and Energy at Northern Illinois University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Dwelling in Conflict: Negev Landscapes and the Boundaries of Belonging, and reported the following:
Dwelling in Conflict, examines disputes over land in the Negev region of southern Israel. Drawing on fieldwork in Bedouin and Jewish communities, the book explains how social and political conflict has become so entrenched along Jewish-Arab lines and explores current efforts to escape the combative status quo.
Page 99 falls near the beginning of Chapter 3, which examines life in a Bedouin town. It begins in the midst of a comparative description of two families, the al-‘Uwaydis and the Abu Assas.
Adult family members held a variety of jobs. Three of the older brothers worked in and around Beersheba for a large store and an NGO. One brother was a self-employed graphic designer, and another worked part-time in the local schools. Luna, Ahmed’s wife, walked to work at a daycare center. Like Sarah’s household, this family’s compound primarily became the domain of women and young children during the day. Um Ahmed, her daughters, and her daughters-in-law stayed home, except when traveling to Beersheba to buy food. However, living in a neighborhood of unrelated lineages, unlike living in the spatially and socially dense ‘ashira relations of the al-‘Uwaydis’ neighborhood, there was little interaction with neighbors. Rather than hosting visitors for tea and chatting, this compound’s evening gatherings consisted of a small circle of immediate family members.
It would be difficult for any one page to capture the essence of the study, since it is multi-sited and these research sites are so segregated. Missing here are the Jewish families of a nearby village, residents of unauthorized settlements, Knesset members, and environmental activists who people other pages. However, page 99 does raise several key themes of the book.

First, this text, like the book as a whole, is ethnographically descriptive. It illuminates the everyday politics and social relations that stem from and contribute to environmental conflict in the Negev. Second, description like this contradict the myth—often expressed in media accounts and political speeches—of “the Bedouin” as a single, monolithic group. Resolving the Negev’s land conflict is challenging, in part, because Bedouin families have widely varied lifestyles. Elsewhere, the book also shows similar variety across other Negev residents.

The book also places these ethnographic details into a larger context, as it is about Israeli society, not just about Jews or Arabs. It looks at the relationships between them and, equally importantly, how these identities—Jewish and Arab—have come to be such fundamental shapers of Israelis’ experiences.
Sarah’s and Wafiq’s families each engaged in notable experiments with ‘Ayn al-‘Azm’s urban space—Sarah’s with the ‘izbe and Wafiq’s with the mud-and-tire house. Because my research aimed in part to explore new possibilities for escaping the Negev region’s divisive strife, I sought out people who were proactive in thinking of and enacting new land relations in the Negev. However, these households were not unique. Some residents participated in the processes of their own urbanization by turning entirely to wage labor in the regulated labor market, dressing in mainstream Israeli fashions, and striving for a middle-class, consumption-driven lifestyle. Many others chafed against the township’s grid of right-angle streets, restrictions on agricultural practices, and small residential plots. All these residents, like Palestinians throughout Israel, dealt daily with their simultaneous inclusion and exclusion from Israeli society (Kanaaneh 2002)…
This passage also references the book’s focus on efforts being explored to resolve this fraught situation. The book is about tracing the conflict’s causes, but also examining experiments with more equitable social relations and more ecologically and socially sustainable lifestyles.

Page 99 ends by hinting at the book’s historical concern. It begins exploring how history, in the form of past land tenure arrangements and residents’ oral histories of former homes, shape contemporary land ties.

So, despite missing the social scope of the book as a whole, page 99 features several of the book’s central issues. Interestingly, page 69 would be as good a test of the overall book, reflecting many of the same themes, though it presents ethnography in Jewish farmsteads.
Learn more about Dwelling in Conflict at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue