The Association for Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Studies (AGAPS) is pleased to present its 2013 Graduate Paper Prize to Matthew MacLean for his work on “Locating and Describing Emirati State and Society: Ethnocracy, Wasta, Kinship, Biology, and Rentierism” (History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University).
While analyzing the ways in which Emirati state and society produce each other, MacLean relativizes the explanatory value of the rentier state theory. He shows in particular that oil revenues did not disempower citizens or prevent politicization, but were used by Emirati elites to create a vast ruling class whose power derived from its shared Emirati-ness. While engaging the literature on citizenship, kinship, and migration in the Gulf, MacLean elaborates an original argument on ethnocracy: kinship is built into the Emirati state as the effect of the assemblage of lineages, families, and citizens. This “kinship effect,” as potent as the aura created by assemblages of populations, territory, and disciplines, translates into specific mechanisms through which the internal and external borders of the Emirati ethnos are policed. Among these mechanisms are the usages of wasta (connection, social capital), the khulasat al-qaid (family book), the sunduq al-zawaj (marriage fund), and prenuptial genetic screenings.
MacLean’s arguments unsettle widespread assumptions about state-society relations, the influence of kinship, and the rentier state. His paper augurs well for the future of the study of the technologies of government and the power of infrastructures in the Arabian Peninsula. MacLean’s original voice and intellectual rigor make his paper a fitting recipient of the AGAPS graduate paper prize.