Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The Middle East has long been portrayed as a place teeming with envy and resentment. Long before Bush asserted on the eve of the Global War on Terror that ‘they hate our freedoms’, anthropologists theorized how regional institutions of witchcraft, feuding and the evil eye might be central to the evolution of more ‘advanced’ methods for containing envy’s destructive powers. This is not to deny, though, that envy is a part of life in the region--from the envy that people know is imputed to them (even as their natural resources are being coveted) to more or less shameful self-realizations that one might actually feel some sort of resentment.
From the opacity of other minds (to say nothing of one’s own) to the active dissimulation of invidious intent and more elaborate ideologies of emotional entanglement, I juxtapose my own research on envy in Jordan with older anthropological approaches to theorize how inequalities come to shape both perceptions of the social field and its actual contours. In particular, I focus on a sort of “envying down” that has become a flashpoint within anthropological studies of envy. Once dismissed as a contradiction in terms, anthropologists have begun more recently to embrace the notion as a way to account for specific forms of ignorance and sublimated tension inherent in relations of domination and subordination. I take these debates as symptomatic of how the emotional burden of managing inequalities shouldered by the marginalized also become a site of paranoia and self-doubt for the privileged.