Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, Religious Studies, University of California / Davis

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 1997
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Michigan
Inscribing the Muse: Political Poetry and the Discourse of Circulation in the Yemeni Cassette Industry

I propose to conduct research into folk poetry and the use of audio-cassettes in Yafi’, a region in the hinterlands of Aden, southern Yemen. I would like to investigate my hypothesis that cassettes are enabling new discourses of tribalism to emerge in Yafi' by featuring folk poetry that both draws upon and promotes popular, regional identities. This has been occurring despite the eradication of tribal administration nearly thirty years ago. Specifically, I plan to consider Yafi'i cassette-poetry as one of the most productive sites for investigating the relationship between particular regional conceptions that have deep historical linkages to place and the more abstract concepts of tribe and nation. I will accomplish this through two comparative methods: conducting a well-targeted, diachronic analysis of a particular genre of cassette-poetry over the past several decades, and conducting a synchronic comparison between contemporary folk-poetry written for cassettes, and that not written for cassettes. This approach will allow me to identify whether or not regional references have been increasing, decreasing, or remaining constant in folk-poetry and cassette folk-poetry in particular. If my hypothesis is correct, an important reworking of current theory of tribalism will be in order. In any case, my research will contribute to theories of national formation, of localized nationalisms and tribalisms, and of the relationship between media technologies and culture.