Patriliny and the Modern State in the Middle East and the World

Presented by Diane King, Junior Faculty Fellow, University of Kentucky, at the Center for Historical Research, Department of History at The Ohio State University on January 17, 2014.

“Patriliny” is a set of ideas and practices in which only one parent, the father, bequeaths certain identity categories, social roles, and goods to his children. Patriliny fosters particular understandings of ancestry and individual and group ontology. Drawing on anthropological theories of patrilineal kinship, I argue that patriliny is integral to conceptions of citizenship and group membership in the Middle East, and that it strongly influences ideas and practices pertaining to the state and nation there. The modern state was supposed to offer a new understanding of the body politic not drawn from concepts of autochthony or familial relationships. I will argue, however, that since the founding of the modern Middle Eastern states by European powers and local elites following WWI, Middle Eastern leaders have often drawn on, rather than turned away from, such concepts in their promotion of the modern. Despite doing so in diverse ways, patriliny is a thread through many of their narratives. I will also show how European colonizers worked to uphold patriliny even as they decried some of its concomitants, helping to produce ironic citizenship regimes that are today facing protest and dissent. I will conclude with the contention that productive links can be made between the institution of the patrilineage and the institution of the state generally, including the modern state as it is now found across the world.

The Ohio State University Center for Historical Research in the Department of History provides a stimulating intellectual environment for studying important historical issues around the world. Each year the Center brings together scholars from various disciplines to examine issues of broad contemporary relevance in historical perspective.