Bradford James Garvey

Grant Type

Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Institutional Affiliation

Amherst College

Grant number

Gr. 10046

Approve Date

October 2, 2020

Project Title

Garvey, Bradford (Amherst College) "Praise to Open Palms: A Moral Economy of Praise in the Sultanate of Oman"

When highway off-ramps, soccer pitches, and medical clinics are built by the government in the Sultanate of Oman, a small authoritarian state in the southeast Arabian Peninsula, Omani Arabs respond with songs of praise. This ethnography, “Praise to Open Palms: A Moral Economy of Praise in the Sultanate of Oman,” traces the musico-linguistic constitution of social relations between rural communities and state elites in Oman through the reciprocal exchange of state distributions and sung praise poetry. This praise poetry is rendered within two song and dance complexes: al-razḥa, a collective war dance with drumming and antiphonal choral singing, and al-‘āzī, a choral ode with a solo singer, tight poetic structure, and a chorus of responders. I argue that when Omani Arab men sing public praise to political leaders, they knit together a distributive moral economy in song. This moral economy is sustained by praise poetry in two ways: first, public praise poetry sings idealized social and political economic relationships into being. Second, praise functions as a normative and reflexive evaluation of the rightness of these state distributions to Omani Arab citizens. With close attention to the poetry composed for elites by rural Omani poets, I reveal how praise operates to manage the economic uncertainty inherent in top-down distributive governance by shaping the mutual commitments that structure cross-class relations.