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Abstract

This dissertation focuses on the nativist anti-corruption social movement in Jordan during the wave of Arab uprisings. Observing the primacy of the concept of corruption in current political discourses and its rising salience since the late 1980’s, the dissertation considers how corruption figures in the daily life of Jordanians as a political problem and an object of political activism. It does so in order to analytically address two sets of related issues. The first part of the dissertation asks what it means for Jordanians to think of all the ills of their state and society in terms of the problem of corruption. Considering that corruption has been the main rallying point, not only for Jordanians, but also for social movements worldwide, I use the Jordanian case to reflect more broadly on the political present on a global scale. I argue that popular perceptions of corruption express a generalized sense of distrust and suspicion towards political authority that grows out of the palpable discrepancy between the juridical state’s promise of equality and the glaring fact of inequality particularly under the contemporary conditions of capitalism. I draw on genealogies of capitalism and modern politics to shed light on the historical specificity of our modern conceptions of justice and corruption and argue that the latter should be understood not as a problem of criminal, but rather of distributive justice. In doing so, I suggest that liberal theories of justice obscure and perpetuate, rather than illuminate existing inequalities. The second part of the dissertation focuses on Jordanian anti-corruption movement, its activism, historical sensibilities and forms of moral and practical reasoning. Here, I draw on the burgeoning literature on the anthropology of ethical life to consider the movements of the Arab Spring as ethico-political projects that did not merely seek to actualize a set of political-economic demands but to transform society and the very idea of patriotism. I demonstrate this transformation in the collective and personal lives of activists through the career of the concept of dignity (karāmah, in Arabic), the set of social types it informed, and the ethical claims it had on patriotic activists. I also show the limits of such ethical transformation by considering controversies around public accusations of corruption levelled at the King. I argue that the activists’ polarized stances around such accusations were not simply critical stances towards the person of the King. Rather, they were critical stances towards their own subjectivity as Jordanians. What was at stake was not only the activists' relation to the current monarch, but their relation to their own self and their own past as narrated in relation to the modern state, and hence, to the monarchy.

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