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  • José Ciro Martínez (a1)

This article analyzes the microprocesses that imbue bread with meaning and the macropolitics that shape its subsidized provision. It begins by outlining bread's multiple forms of value and significance, some easily quantifiable, others not. It problematizes the predominant approach to studying moral economies before putting forth an alternative framework. Drawing on eighteen months of fieldwork in Jordan, the following empirical sections examine the different ways in which bureaucrats, bakers, and ordinary citizens portray the government's universal subsidy of Arabic bread. I unpack the diverse opinions encountered in the field and discuss their links to the Hashemite regime's polyvalent legitimating discourse. The article then dissects the politics of provisions that contribute to the bread subsidy's paradoxical persistence. It concludes by considering the relationship between moral economies, opposition politics, and authoritarian power in the context of Jordan's ongoing food subsidy debate.

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Author's note: I thank the Fulbright Program, the American Center of Oriental Research, and the Gates Cambridge Scholarship for generously supporting my research. I am also grateful for the thoughtful critiques, comments, and questions offered by Ayman Hassouneh, Zied Adarbeh, Salma al-Shami, Brent Eng, Elena D. Corbett, Mona Harb, Tariq Tell, Rami Zurayk, José Darío Martínez, Estee Ward, Ali Nehmé Hamdan, Glen Rangwala, and Michael MacDonald.

1 Baylouny, Anne Marie, “Militarizing Welfare: Neo-Liberalism and Jordanian Policy,” The Middle East Journal 62 (2008): 277303.

2 Parker, Christopher, “Tunnel-bypasses and Minarets of Capitalism: Amman as Neoliberal Assemblage,” Political Geography 28 (2009): 118.

3 Jumanah Ghneimat, “Ayn Maqula ‘al-Khubz Khatt Ahmar’?!,” al-Ghad, 17 September 2013, accessed 10 December 2017,أين-مقولة-الخبز-خطأحمر؟!?search=الخبز%20خط%20أحمر.

4 George Barham, “al-Naʾib al-Majali: al-Khubz Laysa Kafiyaran wa-La Salmun,” Roya News, 21 May 2015, accessed 7 December 2017,النائب.

5 Interview with the author, 9 July 2014, Amman.

6 “Lan Tuzid al-Khubz fi Lisan Wahidan ʿala al-Muwatin,” al-Dustur, 17 June 2015, 8; “Lan Tarfʿa Saʿar al-Khubz ʿala al-Muwatin Itlaqan,” al-Dustur, 28 November 2014, 12.

7 Yom, Sean L., “The New Landscape of Jordanian Politics: Social Opposition, Fiscal Crisis, and the Arab Spring,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 42 (2015): 284300.

8 Deeb, Lara and Harb, Mona, “Choosing Both Faith and Fun: Youth Negotiations of Moral Norms in South Beirut,” Ethnos 78 (2013): 4; Murray Li, Tania, The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007), 22.

9 Ong, Aihwa, Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006), 199.

10 ʿAla al-Qiraleh, “al-Hamawi: Iritfaʿa Istihlak al-Khubz 15% Muqarana maʿa al-ʿAm al-Madi,” al-Raʾi, 21 August 2014, accessed 6 December 2017,

11 World Food Programme, “Jordan Food Security Survey in the Poverty Pockets, August-September 2008,” accessed 12 May 2014,

12 Martínez, José Ciro, “Bread is Life: The Intersection of Welfare and Emergency Aid in Jordan,” Middle East Report 272 (2014): 3035.

13 Orlove, Benjamin and Schmidt, Ella, “Swallowing Their Pride: Indigenous and Industrial Beer in Peru and Bolivia,” Theory and Society 24 (1995): 271–98. One well-known example is the baguette, which became a crucial conveyor of social identity and “metonym for the nation and its civilization in France.” Steven Laurence Kaplan, The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1700–1775 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996), 3.

14 Ohnuki-Tierney, Emily, Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 9.

15 Cowan, Jane K., Dance and the Body Politic in Northern Greece (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990), 132.

16 Simmons, Erica, “Grievances Do Matter in Mobilization,” Theory and Society 43 (2014): 532.

17 For an interesting analysis of rice's role in fostering collective identity in Japan, see Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko, “Structure, Event and Historical Metaphor: Rice and Identities in Japanese History,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 1 (1995): 227–53. In Mexico, corn tortillas have also been framed as being emblematic of the people, often in ways that resonate powerfully throughout the country. For more see, Simmons, Erica, “Corn, Markets, and Mobilization in Mexico,” Comparative Politics 48 (2016): 413–31.

18 Scott, James C., Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998), 12; Wilson, Marisa, Everyday Moral Economies: Food, Politics and Scale in Cuba (London: John Wiley & Sons, 2013), 79.

19 Habermas, Jürgen, The Lure of Technocracy (London: John Wiley & Sons, 2015), 21.

20 Lambek, Michael, “The Anthropology of Religion and the Quarrel between Poetry and Philosophy,” Current Anthropology 41 (2000): 315.

21 Scott, James C., Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985), 235.

22 Following Shielke, the term “registers” is used to convey the performative and highly situational character of norms. Schielke, Samuli, “Ambivalent Commitments: Troubles of Morality, Religiosity and Aspiration among Young Egyptians,” Journal of Religion in Africa 39 (2009): 166.

23 Deeb, Lara, and Harb, Mona, Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Morality in Shi'ite South Beirut (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013), 18.

24 Bohstedt, John, “The Moral Economy and the Discipline of Historical Context,” Journal of Social History 26 (1992): 265–84; Thompson, E. P., Customs in Common (London: Merlin Press, 1991).

25 For more on how Scott's use of moral economy differs from that of Thompson, E.P., see Edelman, Marc, “Bringing the Moral Economy Back in. . . to the Study of 21st-Century Transnational Peasant Movements,” American Anthropologist 107 (2005): 331–45.

26 Scott, James C., The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Subsistence and Rebellion in Southeast Asia (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1976), 35.

27 Ibid., 3.

28 Arnold, Thomas Clay, “Rethinking Moral Economy,” American Political Science Review 95 (2001): 8595; James Booth, William, “On the Idea of the Moral Economy,” American Political Science Review 88 (1994): 653–67; Muehlebach, Andrea, The Moral Neoliberal: Welfare and Citizenship in Italy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).

29 Scott, James C., Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990).

30 Ibid., 118.

31 Moore, Donald, “Subaltern Struggles and the Politics of Place: Remapping Resistance in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands,” Cultural Anthropology 13 (1998): 351. Scott's later work and his ground-level illustrations are more attuned to the dynamic context in which oppositional practices take place. For his own defence against the charge made above, see Scott, James C., “Afterword to ‘Moral Economies, State Spaces, and Categorical Violence,’” American Anthropologist 107 (2005): 395402.

32 Benjamin S. Orlove, “Meat and Strength: The Moral Economy of a Chilean Food Riot,” Cultural Anthropology (1997): 234–68.

33 My reading of Gramsci here draws heavily on Chalcraft, John, Popular Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 2945.

34 Murray Li, The Will to Improve, 22–25; Jackson, Peter, Ward, Neil, and Russell, Polly, “Moral Economies of Food and Geographies of Responsibility,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34 (2009): 1224.

35 Arnold, “Rethinking Moral Economy,” 85–95; Simmons, “Grievances Do Matter,” 513–46.

36 Murray Li, Tania, “Governmentality,” Anthropologica 49 (2007): 275–81.

37 Fine, Ben, “Consumption Matters,” Ephemera 13 (2013): 226.

38 Wilson, Everyday Moral Economies, 21; Fine, Ben, The World of Consumption: The Material and Cultural Revisited (London: Routledge, 2002); Jackson, Ward, and Russell, “Moral Economies,” 12–24.

39 Bohstedt, John, The Politics of Provisions: Food Riots, Moral Economy, and Market Transition in England, c. 1550–1850 (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2013).

40 Bohstedt, The Politics of Provisions, 7.

41 Scott, The Moral Economy, 17.

42 Kingston, Paul, “Rationalizing Patrimonialism: Wasfi al-Tal and Economic Reform in Jordan, 1962–67,” in The Resilience of the Hashemite Rule: Politics and the State in Jordan, 1946–67, ed. Tell, Tariq (Amman: Centre d'etudes et de recherche sur le Moyen-Orient Contemporain, 2001), 115– 44.

43 Massad, Joseph A., Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 1314; Lucas, Russell, “Side Effects of Regime Building in Jordan: The State and the Nation,” Civil Wars 10 (2008): 281–93.

44 For more on this period, see Baylouny, “Militarizing Welfare,” 288–89; Massad, Colonial Effects, 204–16, 240–57.

45 Andoni, Lamis and Schwedler, Jillian, “Bread Riots in Jordan,” Middle East Report 201 (1996): 4042.

46 Baylouny, “Militarizing Welfare,” 291.

47 Ibid.

48 The prereform price was eight qirsh ($0.11).

49 Senator Jawad Anani, former minister of supply, minister of labor, deputy prime minister and foreign minister, interview with the author, 27 May 2014.

50 As quoted in Ala al-Furwati, “Darabka fi al-Makahbiz wa-Ghadab fi al-Shariʿa baʿd Rafʿa al-Daʿm ʿan al-Tahin,” al-Sijil 2, 15 November 2007, accessed 20 November 2015,

51 During most of 2013, subsidized flour cost Jordan's bakers thirty-five dinars per ton ($49), while the international market price hovered around 301.5 dinars ($426). These prices are set using a confidential formula which takes into account input costs (electricity, labor, rent, salt, and water) and ensures bakers a profit of 9 percent on every ton of flour made into khubz ʿarabī.

52 World Bank, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: Options for Immediate Fiscal Adjustment and Longer Term Consolidation (report by the World Bank, No. 71979-JO, Washington, D.C., 2012).

53 Omar Obeidat, “Government Mulls Cash Transfers via Smart Cards for Fuel, Bread Subsidies,” Jordan Times, 18 September 2013.

54 Tarek al-Daʿjeh, “al-Makhabiz: Tatbiq al-Bitaqa al-Dhakiya Yatasabab bi-Fawda wa-Yarbak al-Muwatinin,” al-Ghad, 16 September 2013, accessed 8 December 2017,المخابز-تطبيق-البطاقة-الذكية-يتسبب-بفوضى-ويربك-المواطنين?search=المخابز%20المواطنين.

55 Samir Ghawi, “Public Support for Reform is Necessary—Ensour, Lagarde,” Jordan Times, 12 May 2014.

56 Ummaya Toukan, finance minister of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, interview with the author, 30 June 2014, Amman.

57 For more on the normative underpinnings of neoliberalism, see Boltanski, Luc and Thévenot, Laurent, On Justification: Economies of Worth, trans. Porter, Catherine (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006).

58 There is a long tradition within liberalism that praises the moral benefits of society when it is run according to market principles. For more, see Fourcade, Marion and Healy, Kieran, “Moral Views of Market Society,” Annual Review of Sociology 33 (2007): 285–311.

59 For more on this this group, see Oliver Schlumberger and Andre Bank, “Succession, Legitimacy, and Regime Stability in Jordan,” The Arab Studies Journal (2001): 50–72; and Hourani, Najib B., “Urbanism and Neoliberal Order: The Development and Redevelopment of Amman,” Journal of Urban Affairs 36 (2014): 634–49.

60 Samer Khouri, director of market control of the Ministry of Industry Trade and Supply, interview with the author, 7 April , 2014, Amman; Hatem Halwani, minister of industry, trade, and supply of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, interview with the author, 5 June 2014, Amman.

61 Halwani, interview with the author, 7 April 2014, Amman.

62 Halwani, interview with the author, 14 May 2014, Amman.

63 Halwani, interview with the author, 8 April 2014, Amman.

64 Ibid.

65 Barham, “al-Naʾib al-Majali.”

66 Ibid.

67 Ittihad al-Niqabat, al-ʿAmaliyya al-Mustaqilla, “Tajdir min Rafʿa asar al-Khubz,” 14 May 2015, accessed 20 September 2015,

68 Mulqi is a former minister of trade and foreign affairs and was named head of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority in November 2014. He currently serves as caretaker prime minister in the lead-up to the September 2016 elections.

69 Senator Hani Mulqi, interview with the author, 4 May 2014, Amman.

70 Ryan, Curtis R., “Political Opposition and Reform Coalitions in Jordan,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 38 (2011): 367–90.

71 Frisch, Hillel, “Fuzzy Nationalism: The Case of Jordan,” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 8 (2002): 86103.

72 Nanes, Stefanie, “Hashemitism, Jordanian National Identity, and the Abu Odeh Episode,” The Arab Studies Journal 18 (2010): 162–95.

73 Andrew Shryock, “Dynastic Modernism and Its Contradictions: Testing the Limits of Pluralism, Tribalism, and King Hussein's Example in Hashemite Jordan,” Arab Studies Quarterly (2000): 59.

74 Hasan Abu Nimah, “Jordan Is Strong, Safe and Stable,” Jordan Times, 25 February 2014.

75 His Majesty King of Jordan Abdullah II, “Remarks at the Celebration of Accession to the Throne, the Anniversary of the Great Arab Revolt and Army Day,” Amman, 8 June 2010, accessed 10 February 2015,

76 Martínez, José Ciro, “Leavening Neoliberalization's Uneven Pathways: Bread, Governance and Political Rationalities in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” Mediterranean Politics 22 (2016): 464–83.

77 For more on the concept of political rationality, see Brown, Wendy, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone Books, 2015), 4778.

78 Schwedler, Jillian, Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 134; Achilli, Luigi, “Becoming a Man in al-Wihdat: Masculine Performances in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordan,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 47 (2015): 263–80.

79 His Majesty King of Jordan Abdullah, II, “Khitab al-ʿArsh al-Sami fi Iftitah al-Dawra al-ʿAdiyya al-Thaniyya li-Majlis al-Umma al-Sabʿat ʿAshir,” Amman, Jordan, 2 November 2014, accessed 4 August 2016,

80 Senator Hani Mulqi, interview with the author, 4 May 2014, Amman.

81 Arabic 21,“Takhawafat Shaʿbiyya wa-Hizbiyya min Rafʿa Saʿar al-Khubz,” al-Sabeel, 14 May 2015, accessed 20 September 2015,تهريب-البنزين-في-شمال-سوريا-المحروم-من-محطات-توزيع-الوقود.

82 The monarchy consistently appropriates policy measures that are seen to be “for the people.”

83 Shryock, “Dynastic Modernism,” 57–79.

84 Frisch, “Fuzzy Nationalism,” 86–103.

85 Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: Introduction, trans. Hurley, Robert (New York: Penguin, 1990 [1976]), 100.

86 The dearth of Quʾranic references to bread contrasts quite clearly with their profusion in the hadith, in which it appears nearly twenty times. One of the meanings ascribed to bread does coincide with Saʿid's remarks. Bread is mentioned on various occasions in al-Bukhari's compilation as the appropriate means of almsgiving during the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

87 Many of Ahmad's views are quite similar to the critiques of unbridled capitalism articulated by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad ʿAbduh. For more see Tripp, Charles, Islam and the Moral Economy: The Challenge of Capitalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 3334.

88 Brown, Nathan J., Arguing Islam after the Revival of Arab Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 185.

89 Corbett, Elena, “Hashemite Antiquity and Modernity: Iconography in Neoliberal Jordan,” Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 11 (2011): 163–93; Al-ʿAfif, Ahmad Khalif, Salih, Qasim Muhammad, and al-Zabun, Muhammad Khalil, al-Tarbiya al-Wataniyya (Amman: Dar Jarir, 2013).

90 For an excellent example of this strand of discourse as it is articulated by King Abdullah II, see “Speech of His Majesty King Abdullah II at the Graduation of the 26th Class of Muta University's Military Wing,” Amman, 16 June 2013. An English translation can be found at:, accessed 20 November 2015.

91 For interesting historical parallels in rural Egypt, see Chalcraft, Popular Politics, 116–21.

92 O'Brien, Kevin J., “Rightful Resistance,” World Politics 49 (1996): 45.

93 Ortner, Sherry B, “Resistance and the Problem of Ethnographic Refusal,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 37 (1995): 173–93.

94 Hamdi Barjus, bakery owner, interview with the author, 10 November 2013, Amman.

95 Tripp, Islam and the Moral Economy, 12; Deeb and Harb, Leisurely Islam, 25.

96 Wide variations in political views and policy preferences existed amongst bakers, which the BOA's position does not and cannot fully capture.

97 Sayf al-Jenini, “al-Hamawi: Nataʾij Karithiyya li-Aliyya Daʿm al-Khubz wa-l-Naqid al-Mubashir Khiyar Maqbul,”al-Raʾi, 23 January 2014, accessed 12 October 2014,

98 Abdul Illah Hamawi, President of the BOA, interview with the author, 5 November 2013, Amman.

99 Many such targeting alternatives fail to account for the weak institutional capacity and corruption that plague social protection schemes in Jordan. For more on how new regimes of social payments may open up innovative political possibilities, see Ferguson, James, Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015).

100 Sayf al-Jinini, “al-Hamawi: Nataʾij Karithiyya.”

101 O'Brien, “Rightful Resistance,” 31–55; O'Brien, Kevin J. and Li, Lianjiang, Rightful Resistance in Rural China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

102 Baylouny, “Militarizing Welfare,” 277–303.

103 Yom, “The New Landscape of Jordanian Politics,” 284–300.

104 Bayat, Asef, Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2013).

105 Tariq Tell, “Early Spring in Jordan: The Revolt of the Military Veterans,” Carnegie Middle East Centre, 4 November 2015,

106 Ryan, “Political Opposition,” 367–90.

107 Bohstedt, Politics of Provisions, 268.

108 Subsidized bread provision has also proven crucial to avoiding social unrest during wartime. For more, see Martínez, José Ciro and Eng, Brent, “Struggling to Perform the State: The Politics of Bread in the Syrian Civil War,” International Political Sociology 11 (2017): 130–47; and Martínez, José Ciro and Eng, Brent, “The Unintended Consequences of Emergency Food Aid: Neutrality, Sovereignty and Politics in the Syrian Civil War, 2012–15,” International Affairs 92 (2016): 153–73.

109 Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 337; Gramsci, Antonio, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Hoare, Quintin and Smith, Geoffrey Nowell (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 181–82.

110 Frisch, “Fuzzy Nationalism,” 86–103.

111 I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for pushing me to emphasize this point.

112 Scott, “Afterword,” 399; Martínez, José Ciro, “Jordan's Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Production of Feeble Political Parties and the Perceived Perils of Democracy,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 44 (2017): 356–72; Wedeen, Lisa, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

113 Steensland, Brian, “Cultural Categories and the American Welfare State: The Case of Guaranteed Income Policy,” American Journal of Sociology 111 (2006): 1273–326.

114 Arnold, “Rethinking Moral Economy,” 91.

115 Bohrstedt, Politics of Provisions, 262.

116 Chalcraft, John, “Labour Protest and Hegemony in Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula,” in Social Movements in the Global South: Dispossession, Development and Resistance, ed. Motta, Sara C. and Nilsen, Alf Gunvald (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 3558.

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