No.24 Tribes without Sheikhs? Technological Change, Media Liberalization, and Authority in Networked Jordan
This paper examines the ways in which Jordan’s rapidly evolving media sector is transforming the nature of authority in Jordan. An older generation of leaders, known as sheikhs, confronts technologies they often don’t understand and a new generation that has little respect for its elders’ ancestral claims. Amid a proliferation of social media tools that allow young people to use the idiom of the tribe to act quickly and decisively—even violently—in the political field without regard for their elders, the Jordanian government seeks to reassert control over a media sector that is increasingly international, for profit, and privately held. Yet a new generation of would-be tribal leaders is rushing into the breach. Drawing on case studies of sheikhs, police officers, and journalists, this paper argues that the future of authority in Jordan will depend on the continued ability of leaders to use media to move between various scales of socio-political organization, representing themselves individually while also convincingly standing in for lineages of various sizes and, indeed, the nation itself.