Geoffrey Hughes, NEH Fellow, Summer 2017

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Dr. Geoffrey Hughes, a teaching fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics, is an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) fellow at ACOR for the summer of 2017. The project he is undertaking is titled “Nation and Agnation: Kinship, Conflict, and Social Control in Contemporary Jordan.”

Geoffrey Hughes at ACOR in June 2017, photo by T. Matalka

Through his project Dr. Hughes is investigating how agnation (the principle of common genealogical descent via shared male ancestors) shapes the way Jordanians conceptualize and manage conflicts over inequality, social difference, and social hierarchy. His research focuses on the changing nature of social conflicts and identity, specifically how new kinds of mass mediation are changing the way that people think about themselves in relation to others and how conflicts are managed and perceived by those involved as well as greater local and international communities.

Dr. Hughes was inspired by innovative uses of communication technologies such as Facebook and Twitter. After completing his dissertation, Hughes used social media to keep in touch with people he researched while performing anthropological field work. Within this population, Hughes noted that Facebook friend lists consisted predominantly of family members who were also neighbors, classmates and coworkers. Facebook became a platform for promoting family and the family name, a place for posting and sharing tribal memes, such as an image of a Bedouin with a new car proclaiming, “Bani Sakhr: Glory and Pride. I swear if I wasn’t descended from the Bani Sakhr, I would have chosen the horse and rejected the tribe.” Increasing networks of communication are promoted as solutions to problems of social cohesion, but in some cases they seem to exacerbate them. Small conflicts and altercations enjoy greater circulation through these social media platforms, complicating and intensifying minor disputes. The increasing exposure of otherwise insignificant conflicts has a negative impact on the family or village, and can disrupt traditional systems of social control such as sharia law and tribal dispute resolution.

Beni Sakhr “Glory and Pride Car” Meme

Dr. Hughes aims to conduct his research through the observation of social media use online, interviews, and participant observation. He is also working with local journalists publishing stories online through Jordan’s well-regulated online media sector, tribal judges who are attempting to resolve these issues, and men on the street that are willing to share their perspectives and opinions on such matters.

Dr. Hughes received his B.A in Anthropology from Reed College (2006). He received both an M.A. and his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (2011 and 2015 respectively). His dissertation titled “Affection and Mercy: Kinship, State, and the Management of Marriage in Jordan” explored the relationship between family, institutions and technology, themes he is continuing to explore in his current project with ACOR.

This article was written by Tara Matalka, an undergraduate student at Columbia University and ACOR intern during the summer of 2017.

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