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'Mamlukisation' between social theory and social practice: an essay on reflexivity, state formation, and the late medieval sultanate of Cairo

(2015) ASK WORKING PAPERS. 22. p.1-44
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Abstract
This working paper is a reflexive essay that tries to think with and beyond one of the basic assumptions upon which the field of late medieval Syro-Egyptian ‘Mamluk’ studies is built: the idea that all late medieval Syro-Egyptian objects of study are by default first and foremost connected, circumscribed and distinguished by some agency of dominant military slavery, of Mamluk-ness. Acknowledging that there may be different ways to pursue such an epistemological exercise, this essay opts for re-imagining the historical agency of what traditionally tends to be subsumed under the phenomenon of the Mamluk state. It is argued that the notions of state in modern research and of dawla in contemporary texts remain an issue of related analytical confusion. Engaging with this confusion in the generalising fashion of a historical sociology of late medieval Syro-Egyptian political action, this essay proposes an alternative analytical model that is inspired by Michael Chamberlain’s prioritisation of social practices of household reproduction and by Timothy Mitchell’s related understanding of the state as a structural effect of practices of social differentiation. The proposed model sees sultanic political order —the state— as process, in constant flux as the structural effect and structuring embodiment of constantly changing practices of social reproduction, of elite integration and of political distinction, in contexts that range between multipolar and unipolar social organisation at and around Cairo’s court and its military elites. The essay ends with summarily suggesting from this model how the socio-culturally structured and structuring memories of dynastic political order that had remained politically dominant for most of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were all but obliterated in the fifteenth century by a new layer of particularly ‘Mamluk’ socio-political meaning.
Keywords
social theory, state formation, reflexivity, Egypt & Syria, Mamluks, medieval history

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Chicago
Van Steenbergen, Jo. 2015. “‘Mamlukisation’ Between Social Theory and Social Practice: An Essay on Reflexivity, State Formation, and the Late Medieval Sultanate of Cairo.” Ed. Stephan Conermann. Ask Working Papers 22: 1–44.
APA
Van Steenbergen, Jo. (2015). “Mamlukisation” between social theory and social practice: an essay on reflexivity, state formation, and the late medieval sultanate of Cairo. (S. Conermann, Ed.)ASK WORKING PAPERS, 22, 1–44.
Vancouver
1.
Van Steenbergen J. “Mamlukisation” between social theory and social practice: an essay on reflexivity, state formation, and the late medieval sultanate of Cairo. Conermann S, editor. ASK WORKING PAPERS. Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg; 2015;22:1–44.
MLA
Van Steenbergen, Jo. “‘Mamlukisation’ Between Social Theory and Social Practice: An Essay on Reflexivity, State Formation, and the Late Medieval Sultanate of Cairo.” Ed. Stephan Conermann. ASK WORKING PAPERS 22 (2015): 1–44. Print.
@article{6957847,
  abstract     = {This working paper is a reflexive essay that tries to think with and beyond one of the basic assumptions upon which the field of late medieval Syro-Egyptian {\textquoteleft}Mamluk{\textquoteright} studies is built: the idea that all late medieval Syro-Egyptian objects of study are by default first and foremost connected, circumscribed and distinguished by some agency of dominant military slavery, of Mamluk-ness. Acknowledging that there may be different ways to pursue such an epistemological exercise, this essay opts for re-imagining the historical agency of what traditionally tends to be subsumed under the phenomenon of the Mamluk state. It is argued that the notions of state in modern research and of dawla in contemporary texts remain an issue of related analytical confusion. Engaging with this confusion in the generalising fashion of a historical sociology of late medieval Syro-Egyptian political action, this essay proposes an alternative analytical model that is inspired by Michael Chamberlain{\textquoteright}s prioritisation of social practices of household reproduction and by Timothy Mitchell{\textquoteright}s related understanding of the state as a structural effect of practices of social differentiation. The proposed model sees sultanic political order ---the state--- as process, in constant flux as the structural effect and structuring embodiment of constantly changing practices of social reproduction, of elite integration and of political distinction, in contexts that range between multipolar and unipolar social organisation at and around Cairo{\textquoteright}s court and its military elites. The essay ends with summarily suggesting from this model how the socio-culturally structured and structuring memories of dynastic political order that had remained politically dominant for most of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were all but obliterated in the fifteenth century by a new layer of particularly {\textquoteleft}Mamluk{\textquoteright} socio-political meaning.},
  author       = {Van Steenbergen, Jo},
  editor       = {Conermann, Stephan},
  issn         = {2193-925X},
  journal      = {ASK WORKING PAPERS},
  keyword      = {social theory,state formation,reflexivity,Egypt \& Syria,Mamluks,medieval history},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {1--44},
  publisher    = {Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg},
  title        = {'Mamlukisation' between social theory and social practice: an essay on reflexivity, state formation, and the late medieval sultanate of Cairo},
  url          = {http://www.mamluk.uni-bonn.de/publications/working-paper/ask-wp-22-vansteenbergen.pdf},
  volume       = {22},
  year         = {2015},
}