Cover of States of Subsistence by José Ciro Martínez
States of Subsistence
The Politics of Bread in Contemporary Jordan
José Ciro Martínez


April 2022
368 pages.
from $30.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503630369
Paperback ISBN: 9781503631328
Ebook ISBN: 9781503631335

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Excerpts and More

Honorable Mention for the 2023 Charles Taylor Book Award, sponsored by the American Political Science Association (APSA) - Interpretive Methodologies and Methods Conference Group (IMM).

Winner of the 2023 Roger Owen Book Award, sponsored by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA).

Named a 2022 Best Book of the Year Award, sponsored by the Foreign Affairs.

On any given day in Jordan, more than nine million residents eat approximately ten million loaves of khubz 'arabi—the slightly leavened flatbread known to many as pita. Some rely on this bread to avoid starvation; for others it is a customary pleasure. Yet despite its ubiquity in accounts of Middle East politics and society, rarely do we consider how bread is prepared, consumed, discussed, and circulated—and what this all represents. With this book, José Ciro Martínez examines khubz 'arabi to unpack the effects of the welfare program that ensures its widespread availability.

Drawing on more than a year working as a baker in Amman, Martínez probes the practices that underpin subsidized bread. Following bakers and bureaucrats, he offers an immersive examination of social welfare provision. Martínez argues that the state is best understood as the product of routine practices and actions, through which it becomes a stable truth in the lives of citizens. States of Subsistence not only describes logics of rule in contemporary Jordan—and the place of bread within them—but also unpacks how the state endures through forms, sensations, and practices amid the seemingly unglamorous and unspectacular day-to-day.

About the author

José Ciro Martínez is Lecturer in Politics at the University of York and Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

"Original, lucidly written, and theoretically rigorous, this rich ethnography tells us how to find the state in a quite unexpected place: the bakery. An outstanding book."

—John Chalcraft, London School of Economics, author of Popular Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East

"The exciting States of Subsistence not only challenges how we think about state power in Jordan, but offers a nuanced reading of the literature on state power and an original theoretical approach. José Ciro Martínez provides a roadmap for examining quotidian practices of state power in democracies and non-democracies alike."

—Jillian Schwedler, author of Protesting Jordan: Geographies of Power and Dissent

"Beautifully written, rich in ethnographic detail, States of Subsistence examines the constitution of the state at a novel site: the bakery. Drawing on remarkable access to the inner workings of both bakeries and government bureaucracy, José Ciro Martínez offers a nuanced account of how subsidized bread figures in people's everyday lives and encounters with the state."

—Jessica Barnes, author of Staple Security: Bread and Wheat in Egypt

"Jose Ciro Martinez's brilliant new book,States of Subsistence, largely sets aside those dominant questions of bread riots, food security, regime survival and economic reforms to craft a uniquely important and absolutely fascinating look into the political meaning of the lived experience of subsidized bread in Jordan."

—Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark

"In this fascinating book, [Martínez] reveals the extent to which the bread subsidy is intimately woven into the economic, social, and political life of the kingdom."

—Lisa Anderson, Foreign Affairs

"Centering the perspectives of Jordanians with intimate knowledge of bread and baking, Martínez demonstrates the analytical payoff of taking cultures of consumption and culinary knowledge seriously."

—Anny Gaul, Current History

"Martínez sees the consumption and production of bread as a microcosm for how Jordanians coexist with authoritarian power. There is no other book about the politics of subsidizing bread in Jordan, certainly none that bestows such a memorable conclusion."

—Sean L. Yom, Middle East Research and Information Project

"I have long waited for this kind of book, an embodied political economy of a staple food such as bread, and how it literally—rather than just symbolically—sustains a nation. Martinez's evocative ethnography of bread and political stability in Jordan is a prime example of how minute attention to everyday food practices can yield deep analytical insights into the workings of a state."

—Katharina Graf, Gastronomica

"This splendid ethnographic study addresses one of political science's most glaring lacunae. Few things weigh more heavily than food upon both citizens and governments alike. Yet few other concepts are as understudied as this one, particularly by political scientists working on the Middle East.... To make sense of this uncertain future, observers of Jordan should consider how politics and food became wedded to one another in the first place. States of Subsistence is a magnificent place to start."

—Sean Yom, International Journal of Middle East Studies

"Although calls to disaggregate the state are not new, States of Subsistence brings persuasive ethnographic evidence to bear about what that means and how disaggregation operates at different levels."

—Pete W. Moore, Perspectives on Politics