This paper explores the Saudi state’s materiality through the narration of one woman’s experiences and encounters with its bureaucratic and documentary practices. From her dramatic run-in with the hayʾa (religious police), during which her identification is demanded, to her “divorce by SMS”, Duaa’s relationship with the state is increasingly individuated, direct and mediated by documents. More often than not, however, Duaa’s documented life remains enmeshed in patrilineality and the male guardianship system. She experiences various bureaucratic documents as unstable and incoherent material objects of governance. Accordingly, Duaa and other women are not taken by documentary fetishism, but learn to navigate for themselves overlapping and unfair systems that privilege the masculine citizen.
Keywords : Women, Saudi Arabia, state, materiality, documents
Zina Sawaf is Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies at the Lebanese American University. Previously, she was an Early Career Fellow with the Arab Council for the Social Sciences. A social anthropologist, she has written and published on ethnographic practice in the Arab region, divorce and the state in Saudi Arabia, and the history of anthropology in Lebanon. Her book project, Encountering the State: Women and Intimate Lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the Arabian Peninsula, is a study of embodied encounters between women and the processes, offices, and officials of the state, as well as its material culture.
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