The Organization of Society

The Organization of Society

In the pre-1948 East Bank, the dominant sociopolitical order was tribalism. Tribalism was characteristic not only of the beduin nomads and seminomads upon whom the Hashimite (also seen as Hashemite) rulers relied for support, but also of many of the village people and even those who were technically urban. After 1948 this sociocultural system was inundated by masses of Palestinians, largely sedentary village and town dwellers, many of them literate and well educated. The sheer numbers of Palestinians who came to the East Bank after 1948 and the comparatively simple economy and society of the indigenous Transjordanians made the assimilation of the Palestinians to the local patterns improbable. Indeed, some analysts have argued that by the early 1970s Palestinians had established a cultural dominance in the East Bank. In any case, by the late 1980s, Palestinians had considerable economic and cultural influence.

Jordanians responded in part to the development of Palestinian economic and cultural elites by upgrading education. By the late 1980s, the gap between Transjordanian and Palestinian educational achievements had narrowed considerably. Jordan's position also was changing in the global political economy. Agriculture and nomadism had gradually given way to more viable livelihoods based on skilled labor, secular education, and increasing levels of literacy. Labor migration, particularly of the skilled and educated, was a key factor in social mobility in the 1970s and 1980s. A concomitant shift in values was apparent: prestige was increasingly associated with modern occupations, and education came to be seen as the key to social mobility.

Aside from the fundamental distinction between Jordanians of East Bank origin and those of Palestinian origin, other sociocultural distinctions or affiliations were evident in Jordanian society, including ethnic and regional origins, gender, class, tribe, religion, and life-style (e.g., nomadic, village, or urban). These various patterns of affiliations structured the ways in which Jordanians related to one another and gave rise to different sorts of individual identity. For example, most Christian Jordanians were Arabs and shared many cultural habits and values with Muslim Jordanians. Their sense of identity, however, was based less on Islamic influences than that of Muslim Jordanians. Christians interacted daily with Muslims, working, studying, and socializing together. But intermarriage between Muslims and Christians remained infrequent in the late 1980s. Little information was available on the extent to which these social interactions contributed to conflict or tension. The most that observers could conclude was that religious differences carried a potential for conflict.

Class structure in Jordan was exceedingly difficult to assess. Many social divisions, such as East Bank or Palestinian origins and identity, tribal affiliation, ethnicity, and rural or urban lifestyle, cut across class divisions. The forces of the political economy in the late 1970s and 1980s were forging embryonic classes; however, it was debatable to what extent they were self-conscious and cohesive.

Class structure in Jordan resembled a pyramid. At the top was a small, wealthy group comprising large landowners, industrialists, leading financial figures, and members of their families. The oil boom of the 1970s and early 1980s also had created a new class of wealthy Jordanians who made large amounts of money abroad, which was displayed by conspicuous consumption at home in Jordan. Just below this group were professionals, army officers, and government officials who lived a somewhat less grand but still comfortable life. White-collar workers, schoolteachers, and returning migrants struggled to retain a style of life that separated them socially from the small shopkeepers and artisans below them. At the bottom of the pyramid, a large lower class included increasing numbers of the unemployed. The system of family support tended to cushion unemployed university graduates and professionals from falling into the ranks of the poor.

Ethnicity and Language
Tribes and Tribalism
Urban Areas and Urbanization

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