The waning of a pastoralist community: An ethnographic exploration of Soqotra as a transitional social formation
Soqotra is the main island of a four-island Archipelago, and is undergoing an accelerated change process driven by a dual incorporation process: First, the Yemeni government's modernization of its infrastructure and consolidation of its political incorporation into the national community. Second, a United Nations led internationalization of its economy through the implementation of an environmental protection and ecotourism development programme. Consequently, its approximately 50,000 inhabitants, who constituted a predominantly pastoralist community with a unique language and a mixed ethnic composition, are now being enlisted in a state-sponsored and internationally assisted community development process, which has spawn an internal social transformation and communal transition.
The cardinal problematic of this dissertation is to elucidate the current dynamics of Soqotra's politically mediated and development induced communal transition within a historical continuum. It employs a “processual ethnography” approach that straddles the contemporary and historical dimensions to identify the critical processes of transition, the vectors of change, and their effects. These effects are traced through four domains of social interaction between Soqotrans and external actors, namely politics, economy, culture and environment.
The thesis that informs and structures this dissertation is that political incorporation has historically constituted the primary determinant of Soqotra's communal order, and is now the main impetus of its transition. Accordingly, the dissertation situates the island's transition through an overview of the four phases of its recent history of political encompassment, as forms of sovereignty arrogated by outsiders (i.e., sultanate fiefdom, socialist administration, unity government, and post-unity regime), which introduced four divergent types of administrative regimes, as forms of governmentality (i.e., tributary patrimonialism, democratic centralism, tribal libertarianism, and an internationally-mediated local governance), and highlights their reconfigurative impacts on local institutions and practices. Subsequently, it discusses separately the vectors of change (i.e., communal mutation, national acculturation, and transcultural annexation) generated, especially but not exclusively, by the last phase of political encompassment, and explores their adjustment effects on the island's communal life. Finally, it considers the cultural and developmental dilemmas generated by this on-going process of change.
Middle Eastern Studies;
0555: Middle Eastern Studies
0700: Social structure