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Fertile Bonds

Bedouin Class, Kinship, and Gender in the Bekaa Valley

Suzanne E. Joseph

Publication Year: 2013

With an average of over nine children per family, older cohorts of Bedouin in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon have one of the highest fertility rates in the world. Many married couples in this pastoral community are close relatives--a socially advantageous practice that reflects the deep value Bedouins place on kinship.

To outsiders, such family norms can seem disturbing, even premodern. They attract assumptions of Arab "backwardness," poverty, and sexism. Astoundingly, however, Fertile Bonds flips these stereotypes. Anthropological demographer Suzanne Joseph shows that in this particular group, prolific birth rates coincide with moderate death rates and high levels of nutrition. Despite differences in gender, class, and occupation, members of Bekaa Bedouin society rely heavily on kinship ties, sharing, and reciprocity, and experience a high degree of social and demographic equality.

This story, unfamiliar to many, is one that is fading as traditional nomadic livelihoods give way to encapsulation within the state. With the help of this surprising, nuanced study--one of the first of its kind in the Middle East--knowledge of such marginalized pastoral groups will not vanish with the disappearance of their way of life. Joseph’s book expands our understanding of peoples far removed from consolidated government control and provides a broad analytical lens through which to examine demographic divides across the globe.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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p. 1-1

Fertile Bonds

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pp. 2-3


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p. 4-4


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p. 5-5


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pp. v-6

List of Figures

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pp. vi-7

List of Tables

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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-11

This book has been a labor of love in spite of the birth pangs. I am grateful to the following scholars for their comments and suggestions: Charles Peters, Alexandra Brewis Slade, Alan G. Hill, and Lila Abu-Lughod. The author bears sole responsibility for any errors, oversights, or omissions. I...

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. xi-13

Most speakers alternated between Lebanese and Bedouin Arabic dialects during conversations with the author. Arabic is transliterated according to the system employed in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, eds. Peri J. Bearman et al. with some changes:...

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1. Introduction and Overview

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pp. 1-22

Vital demographic events are at once global and deeply personal. On a personal level, demographic events include if, when, and whom we marry and sometimes divorce; if, when, and how many children we have; and why and when we die. On a global scale, much attention has recently been paid...

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2. Nomadic Lives in Transition

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pp. 23-41

Bedouin tribal nomadism has been altered by processes similar to those affecting pastoralists everywhere. Bedouin nomadic movements in search of pasture and water for their sheep and goats have been impacted by the solidification of national boundaries, changes in systems of land tenure,...

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3. (Un)Stratified Reproduction: Class, Tribe, and Culture

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pp. 42-72

It is difficult to make unequivocal statements about the causes of demographic inequities, but it has become a social-science orthodoxy to assert that demographic disparities between rich and poor segments of society are widespread, with poor peoples being more likely to fall ill and die than...

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4. Gender Myths and Demographic Realities

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pp. 73-94

Homogenous narratives of Arab women’s and other Third World women’s patriarchal oppression are part of a historically long and geographically wide colonial legacy. Western colonialism and feminism converge in their concerns over Third World women’s fertility being too high. The reproduction...

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5. Marriage between Kin

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pp. 95-116

Making sense of close-kin marriage and its cultural meanings has long preoccupied anthropologists.1 It is well known that patriparallel-cousin marriage (marriage between the children of brothers) is the culturally preferred marriage pattern in Middle Eastern societies. That is, the ideal...

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6. Population and Poverty: A Capitalist Trap?

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pp. 117-132

Global fertility decline has brought with it an idealization of the Western bourgeois family type,1 or what has been dubbed as “the early stopping, gender-balanced, child-centered nuclear family.”2 While the large family is seen as a throwback to an era marked by high death rates and poverty, the...

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7. Class Differentiation of Demographic Regimes

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pp. 133-153

It is generally acknowledged that one of the most important contributions to the anthropological and sociological study of demography over the last twenty-five years or so has been the identification of class/caste and occupational differentials in fertility and mortality within local communities at...

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8. Demography on the Nomadic Periphery

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pp. 154-172

Chapter 7 documents the presence of social-class, caste, and occupational variation in demographic behavior in different parts of Europe, Asia, and Latin America during transition. The question that remains unclear is whether or not similar forms of local socioeconomic differentiation shape...

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9. Conclusions

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pp. 173-180

The North-South demographic divide expresses the global fault line between rich and poor. Roughly one in four people—20 percent of the world’s population—live under extreme poverty.1 Patterns of morbidity and mortality offer further testimonial to the rift between rich and poor. According to...


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pp. 181-203


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pp. 205-224


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pp. 225-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048482
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813044613

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 15 tables, 7 b&w photos, 1 drawing
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bedouins -- Lebanon -- Biqāʻ Valley.
  • Families -- Lebanon -- Biqāʻ Valley.
  • Fertility, Human -- Lebanon -- Biqāʻ Valley.
  • Sex role -- Lebanon -- Biqāʻ Valley.
  • Biqāʻ Valley (Lebanon) -- Social life and customs.
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