Peripheral Visions Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen
by Lisa Wedeen
University of Chicago Press, 2008
Cloth: 978-0-226-87790-7 | Paper: 978-0-226-87791-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-87792-1
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226877921.001.0001


The government of Yemen, unified since 1990, remains largely incapable of controlling violence or providing goods and services to its population, but the regime continues to endure despite its fragility and peripheral location in the global political and economic order. Revealing what holds Yemen together in such tenuous circumstances, Peripheral Visions shows how citizens form national attachments even in the absence of strong state institutions.

Lisa Wedeen, who spent a year and a half in Yemen observing and interviewing its residents, argues that national solidarity in such weak states tends to arise not from attachments to institutions but through both extraordinary events and the ordinary activities of everyday life. Yemenis, for example, regularly gather to chew qat, a leafy drug similar to caffeine, as they engage in wide-ranging and sometimes influential public discussions of even the most divisive political and social issues. These lively debates exemplify Wedeen’s contention that democratic, national, and pious solidarities work as ongoing, performative practices that enact and reproduce a citizenry’s shared points of reference. Ultimately, her skillful evocations of such practices shift attention away from a narrow focus on government institutions and electoral competition and toward the substantive experience of participatory politics.


Lisa Wedeen is professor in and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago and the author of Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria.


"Wedeen's brilliant, thought-provoking and beautifully written book . . . is about the practice of politics—and also about a more interesting way of 'writing about' politics. It is this combination that makes it not only a compelling piece of scholarship, but also a profoundly useful course reading for those curious students . . . who want to go beyond the commonplace defintion of such congested concepts as 'democracy,' 'identity,' 'nationalism,' and 'Islamic politics'. . . . It is one of a new breed of books about Middle East politics that upend our understanding of political concepts, introduce texture and depth into theories of politics, and show the way forward."
— Laleh Khalili, Times Higher Education

"[Wedeen's approach] allows the dynamic of everyday reality to enter the scholarly description, and thus lets us move flexibly between specific and general, empirical and philosophical, national and individual. . . . Besides a well-polished argument which makes the book a pleasure to read, Peripheral Visions engages with outstanding scholarship in fields ranging from feminism, anthropology to political theory."
— Carolina Ivanescu, Social Anthropology


List of Maps



Imagining unity

Seeing like a citizen, acting like a state

The politics of deliberation: QAT chews as public spheres

Practicing piety, summoning groups: disorder as control

Piety in time:contemporary islamic movements in national and transnational contexts

Politics as performative