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  • Bridget L. Guarasci (a1)

This article analyzes the restoration of Jordan's UN Dana Biosphere Reserve cottages for ecotourism and home building in the neighboring village of Qadisiyya as competing land projects. Whereas a multimillion-dollar endowment from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) restores Dana's houses as a “heritage” village for a tourist economy, families in Qadisiyya build houses with income from provisional labor to shore up a familial future. Each act of home building articulates a political claim to land. This article argues for attention to the architecture of the environment in the comparison of two, once-related villages. A comparative analysis of Dana and Qadisiyya reveals the competing socio-political objectives of home building for the future of Jordan and the implications of environment in that struggle.

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Author's Note: I thank Sarah El Kazaz, Gökçe Günel, Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Elana Buch, Geoffrey Hughes, Andrew Shryock, the editors of IJMES, and three anonymous reviewers for their generative comments on drafts of this article. I thank Muʿad Al Qawabeah for his research assistance in Tafileh. I thank the American Center of Oriental Research whose CAORC Senior Fellowship supported my 2012 research and Franklin & Marshall College for grants that funded my follow-up ethnography.

1 The RSCN is a Royal NGO; it operates at the pleasure of the kingdom.

2 Cronon, William, Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1995); Davis, Diana K. and Burke, Edmund, eds., Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2011); Grove, Richard H., Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

3 Cronon, Uncommon Ground, 70.

4 Allen, Lori, “Martyr Bodies in the Media: Human Rights, Aesthetics, and the Politics of Immediation in the Palestinian Intifada,” American Ethnologist 36 (2009): 161–80; Benjamin, Walter, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations, ed. Arendt, Hannah (New York: Schocken Books, 1968); Rancière, Jacques, The Politics of Aesthetics (New York: Continuum, 2004); Said, Edward W., Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979).

5 Barnes, Jessica, Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2014); Davis and Burke, Environmental Imaginaries; Jones, Toby C., Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010); Jones, , Running Dry: Essays on Energy, Water and Environmental Crisis (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2015); Limbert, Mandana E., In the Time of Oil: Piety, Memory & Social Life in an Omani Town (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2010); Mikhail, Alan, ed., Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Mitchell, Timothy, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2002); Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (New York: Verso, 2011).

6 Brand, Laurie A., “Development in Wadi Rum? State Bureaucracy, External Funders, and Civil Society,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 33 (2001): 571–90; Chatelard, Géraldine, “Conflicts of Interest over the Wadi Rum Reserve: Were They Avoidable? A Socio-Political Critique,” Nomadic Peoples 7 (2003): 138–58; Davis, Diana K., Resurrecting the Granary of Rome: Environmental History and French Colonial Expansion in North Africa (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2007); Davis, “Enclosing Nature in North Africa: National Parks and the Politics of Environmental History,” in Water on Sand: Enviornmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa, ed. Alan Mikhail (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). See also West, Paige, Conservation Is Our Government Now: The Politics of Ecology in Papua New Guinea (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006); and West, Paige, Igoe, James, and Brockington, Dan, “Parks and Peoples: The Social Impact of Protected Areas,” Annual Review of Anthropology 35 (2006): 251–77.

7 Davis and Burke, Environmental Imaginaries, 4.

8 Timothy Mitchell, “Are Environmental Imaginaries Culturally Constructed?,” in Environmental Imaginaries, 273.

9 Coronil, Fernando, The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

10 Barnes, Cultivating the Nile; Tessa Farmer, “Willing to Pay: Competing Paradigms about Resistance to Paying for Water Services in Cairo, Egypt,” Middle East Law and Governance 9 (2017): 3–19; Jones, Running Dry; Mikhail, Water on Sand.

11 Jones, Desert Kingdom; Limbert, In the Time of Oil; Mitchell, Carbon Democracy.

12 Günel, Gökçe, “Inhabiting the Spaceship: The Connected Isolation of Masdar City,” in Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imaginary, ed. Graham, James (New York: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2016).

13 El-Kazaz, Sarah, “Thinking in Four Dimensions: New Directions in Spatial Analysis of the Middle East,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 49 (2017): 535–45; Elyachar, Julia, “Phatic Labor, Infrastructure and the Question of Empowerment in Cairo,” American Ethnologist 37 (2010): 452–64; Ghannam, Farha, Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2002); Ghannam, Farha, “The Promise of the Wall: Reflections on Desire and Gated Communities in Cairo,” Jadaliyya, 3 January 2014, accessed 15 December 2017,

14 Allan, Diana, Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2014); Bishara, Amahl, “Driving while Palestinian in Israel and the West Bank: The Politics of Disorientation and the Routes of a Subaltern Knowledge,” American Ethnologist 42 (2015): 3354; Akar, Hiba Bou, “Contesting Beirut's Frontiers,” City & Society 24 (2012): 150–72; Feldman, Ilana, “Punctuated Humanitarianism: Palestinian Life between the Catastrophic and the Cruddy,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 48 (2016): 372–76; Khalili, Laleh, “The Roads to Power: The Infrastructure of Counterinsurgency,” World Policy Journal 34 (2017): 9399; McKee, Emily, Dwelling in Conflict: Negev Landscapes and the Boundaries of Belonging (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2016); Nucho, Joanne Randa, Everyday Sectarianism in Urban Lebanon (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016); Salamanca, Omar Jabary, Qato, Mezna, Rabie, Kareem, and Samour, Sobhi, “Past Is Present: Settler Colonialism in Palestine,” Settler Colonial Studies 2 (2012): 18; Salamanca, Omar Jabary, “Assembling the Fabric of Life: When Settler Colonialism Becomes Development,” Journal of Palestine Studies 45 (2016): 6480; Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Brian Boyd, and Hamed Salem, “Toxic Ecologies of Occupation,” EnviroSociety, 2 April 2015, accessed 15 December 2017,; Tawil-Souri, Helga, “Surveillance Sublime: The Security State in Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Quarterly 68 (2016): 5665; Weizman, Eyal, Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Verso, 2007).

15 Doherty, Gareth, Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2017); Kali Rubaii, “Concrete and Livability in Occupied Palestine,” 20 September 2016, accessed 15 December 2017,; Caterina Scaramelli, “Salt, Seeds, and Flamingos: On the Politics of Infrastructural Ecology in Turkey,” 23 August 2017, accessed December 15, 2017, See also Kirksey, Eben, Emergent Ecologies (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015); and Rademacher, Anne, Building Green: Environmental Architects and the Struggle for Sustainability in Mumbai (Oakland, Calif.: University of California Press, 2018).

16 Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Anthropology and Myth: Lectures 1951–1982 (New York: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1987), 156. See also Lévi-Strauss, Claude, The Way of the Masks (Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1982), 184; and Lévi-Strauss, Anthropology and Myth, 186.

17 Carsten, Janet and Hugh-Jones, Stephen, eds., About the House: Levi-Strauss and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). See also Bachelard, Gaston, The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look at How We Experience Intimate Places (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1994 [1958]); and Vellinga, Marcel, “Review Essay: Anthropology and the Materiality of Architecture,” American Ethnologist 34 (2007): 756–66.

18 This is a global phenomenon. See Arjun Appadurai, “Housing and Hope,” The Design Observer Group, 5 March 2013, accessed September 17, 2013,; Bahloul, Joëlle, The Architecture of Memory: A Jewish-Muslim Household in Colonial Algeria 1937–1962 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Fehérváry, Krisztina, “The Materiality of the New Family House in Hungary: Postsocialist Fad or Middle-class Ideal?,” City & Society 23 (2011): 1841; Hayden, Dolores, Redesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1984); Melly, Caroline, “Inside-Out Houses: Urban Belonging and Imagined Futures in Dakar, Senegal,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 52 (2010): 3765; Miller, Daniel, ed., Home Possessions: Material Culture Behind Closed Doors (Oxford: Berg, 2001); and Mueggler, Erik, The Age of Wild Ghosts: Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2001).

19 Shryock, Andrew and Howell, Sally, “‘Ever a Guest in Our House’: The Emir Abdullah, Shaykh Majid al-ʿAdwan, and the Practice of Jordanian House Politics, as Remembered by Umm Sultan, The Widow of Majid,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 33 (2001): 247.

20 Ibid.

21 Bourdieu, Pierre, “Appendix: The Kabyle House or a World Reversed,” in The Logic of Practice (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990 [1980]); Hughes, Geoffrey Fitzgibbon, “The Proliferation of Men: Markets, Property, and Seizure in Jordan,” Anthropological Quarterly 89 (2016): 1081–108; Meneley, Anne, Tournaments of Value: Sociability and Hierarchy in a Yemeni Town (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996).

22 Brand, “Development in Wadi Rum?”; Chatelard, “Conflicts of Interest.”

23 Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics.

24 Buck-Morss, Susan, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991).

25 All names in the manuscript have been changed to protect the confidentiality of my research participants.

26 Shryock, AndrewThe New Jordanian Hospitality: House, Host, and Guest in the Culture of Public Display,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 46 (2004): 3562.

27 Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Modern King in the Arab Spring,” The Atlantic, 18 March 2013, accessed 5 August 2013,

28 Cooke, Miriam, Tribal Modern: Branding New Nations in the Arab Gulf (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2014); Limbert, In the Time of Oil; Salamandra, Christa, A New Old Damascus: Authenticity and Distinction in Urban Syria (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2004); Shryock, “The New Jordanian Hospitality.”

29 Raffles, Hugh, “‘Local Theory’: Nature and the Making of an Amazonian Place,” Cultural Anthropology 14 (1999): 323–60; Williams, Raymond, The Country and the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973).

30 That familial homes are built with migrant labor is a global phenomenon; Melly, “Inside-Out Houses.”

31 The Sharra highlands are part of the Mountain Heights Plateau abutting Jordan's Wadi Araba, which is a part of the Jordan Valley and comprises a section of the Great Rift Valley extending from Turkey down through East Africa along the Jordanian–Israeli border.

32 Al-Akh Sabah is the name of one of the three major tribes in Qadisiyya, representing 20 percent of the village. It designates geography, but is not used as a surname. I use al-Akh Sabah as a surname here to provide both context for the village and anonymity for individual members of this tribe.

33 United Nations Development Programme, “Arid Region Nature and Natural Resources Conservation and Rehabilitation—Azraq Component” (project document for UNDP, Amman, Jordan, 1993).

34 Biosphere reserves are “sites of excellence” recognized by UNESCO for their efforts to implement the 1992 Rio Convention on Biological Diversity by promoting sustainable development through local community efforts and biodiversity conservation science; UNESCO, “Biosphere Reserves—Learning Sites for Sustainable Development,” 2013, accessed 21 October 2013,

35 Jordan is a semirentier state, with foreign assistance constituting 20 to 50 percent of its overall budget; Peters, Anne Mariel and Moore, Pete W., “Beyond Boom and Bust: External Rents, Durable Authoritarianism, and Institutional Adaptation in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” Studies in Comparative International Development 44 (2009): 256–85; Zaina Steityeh, “First Aid,” Jordan Business, July 2011, accessed 8 December 2011,

36 Appadurai, “Housing and Hope.”

37 290 JD is roughly equivalent to $410 and 18,000 JD is roughly equivalent to $25,425 based on the 1.41 exchange rate on 30 October 2013.

38 Singerman, Diane and Amar, Paul, eds., Cairo Cosmopolitan: Politics, Culture, and Urban Space in the New Globalized Middle East (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2006).

39 Meneley, Tournaments of Value, 61.

40 One Jordanian dinar is divided into one hundred qirsh.

41 Shaykh Fulan al-Akh Sabah told me that his family had twenty sheep. Today each sheep is valued at 200 JD, or about $282 at the exchange rate of 1.41 on 20 July 2017.

42 Fehérváry, “The Materiality of the New Family House in Hungary,” 18; Meneley, Tournaments of Value, 62.

43 See Melly, “Inside-Out Houses.”

44 Abu-Lughod, Lila, Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

45 Shryock, Andrew, “Breaking Hospitality Apart: Bad Hosts, Bad Guests, and the Problem of Sovereignty,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18 (2012): 25.

46 Roughly mā shāʾ allāh translates “as Allah has willed it” and is said in praise of someone or to denote something beautiful.

47 Adely, Fida, Gendered Paradoxes: Educating Jordanian Women in Nation, Faith, and Progress (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); Deeb, Lara and Harb, Mona, “Choosing Both Faith and Fun: Youth Negotiations of Moral Norms in South Beirut,” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 78 (2013): 122.

48 Meneley, Tournaments of Value, 15; Shryock, “The New Jordanian Hospitality,” 41.

49 The plan also envisioned creating a protected area at Shobak, where the ruins of a Crusader castle were well preserved. Shobak was about forty-five minutes drive from Dana village. While the master plan linked Dana with Petra and Wadi Rum, it linked Shobak with Feynan, an award-winning ecolodge designed by Walid Munif in the valley below Dana's cliffs.

50 Mitchell, Timothy, Colonising Egypt (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1991), 1.

51 Shryock, “The New Jordanian Hospitality.”

52 Though the RSCN is a Royal NGO, it receives only about 9 percent of its annual operating budget from the government. Almost half of its annual income derives from ecotourism and the accompanying socio-economic projects of its reserves; Annual Report (Amman, Jordan: Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, 2011), 30. Under the Wild Jordan socio-economic plan—which features a green café just off of Amman's thriving Rainbow Street where agents of the British empire once made their home and where the British embassy is housed today—each of the reserves specializes in a particular trade, such as the profitable biscuit house at the Ajloun reserve which manufactures tasty “traditional” cookies packaged for sale both at the reserve and at the Wild Jordan center in Amman. USAID identified tourism as Jordan's fastest-growing and most promising economic sector.

53 The RSCN also exceeded its environmental mandate at Wadi Rum when it was tasked with implementing a comprehensive tourism plan for the site; Brand, “Development in Wadi Rum?”; Chatelard, “Conflicts of Interest.”

54 In this way Dana was quite similar to the Kan Zaman restaurant and heritage center Shryock describes outside of Amman. Shryock, “The New Jordanian Hospitality.”

55 Ibid.

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