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



HANI PAUSED TO REFILL HIS GLASS, asking for the sugar as he complained, one last time, about my recurring failure to make the tea sweet enough. I started to offer my usual response—I prefer tea with sugar, not sugar with tea—but he cut me off. Though convivial and kind, Hani was not one to digress. Business was his creed, bakeries and restaurants the pillars of his conversation. The rest was futile chitchat.

Today was different, though. I had only a few hours left before my noon flight. I knew the last people I wanted to see. At nine in the morning, the bakery was sweltering—muggy, damp, and stifling. The oven’s flame had just been turned down. The morning rush hour had given way to a brief lull, and everyone’s exhaustion was palpable. The bakers behind Hani scarcely managed a tired wave as I yelled my greetings to those inside the life-giving crypt. Already, these bakers were sweating, dripping, and steaming. The workday here had started four hours earlier, and they had at least another ten hours to go. I had made the tea, as had once been my charge, in an effort to prevent sadness from enveloping our farewells. The bakers must have sensed my unease. They swiftly downed tools and joined Hani and me at the storefront, smoking in unison. Outside, cars and trucks passed by in a storm of noise and a relentless honking that somehow never became drab.

>Hani’s blue shirt was coated with flour—a thin, off-white dusting that suggested he had been required to bake that day, an increasingly uncommon occurrence, given his age and station. A bakery owner for the past twenty years, and a salaried baker for twenty before that, he has seen Jordan’s commercial bread industry be born, rise, and ripen. His bulging neck and barrel chest speak of a life of exacting manual labor; he owes his protruding forearms, lower back pains, and disjointed but nimble wrists to incalculable hours spent making bread. Hani describes himself as a khabbaz (baker): he bakes and sells khubz (bread) for a living.

The Jordanian government began subsidizing the price of this foodstuff in 1974. Ever since, bakers like Hani have worked with government regulations and ministerial inspections, alongside flour and yeast, to provide what has become the country’s most important staple. Hani often reminded me that, in the early years, this bread was a novelty, something that only the displaced and destitute ate. Others still grew and milled wheat and made their own dough, which they then baked in a village or neighborhood oven. Fairly quickly, however, population growth and foreign cereals undercut these practices. Soon, everyone found it easier, and cheaper, to swing by the bakery and purchase what had once been disparagingly called khubz al-suq (bread from the market). By 2013, the year I first came to Hani’s, there were more than 1,500 bakeries operating across Jordan. The vast majority were small, unassuming establishments, with at most six or seven employees. Profits were consistent but not particularly abundant. The bakery is a volume business, one that is enhanced if the owner can buy the ingredients and machinery necessary to make more profitable cookies and pastries. Hani did neither. His bakery made subsidized bread, nothing more, nothing less. And it did this well. “If one has bread, one has life, and what better than to give life?” Hani was fond of asking after a strenuous day. “We give life.”

On this last day, Hani reached over my shoulder to grab the small carton of sugar from the nearby counter, then waited while I served the others tea. Before I finished, I heard his gruff voice behind me, calling my name.

“So, what will you tell the world you’ve learned,” he asked, “besides how to mess up a cup of tea?”

Enveloped in clouds of flour, I thought about operating the mixer and working the oven. I remembered days spent shaping unformed dough and rolling it into temporary submission. But I knew this was one of those questions that Hani asked only to answer it himself before anyone else could chime in.

“That we live only for bread? That we exchange it for freedom?” he probed, as he grabbed the back of my neck affectionately. “No,” he chuckled.

We had discussed overtly political topics on only a few occasions. It was usually late at night, after some of the workers had left and in response to a particular news story or personal travail. Discerning and caustic in equal measure, Hani did not particularly resent the Jordanian king, although he found the entire premise of monarchy baffling. His critiques of US empire were cutting, but not particularly aggrieved. It was the impulse to govern, to rule and exercise power over others, that troubled him.

“No, there is no exchange,” Hani stated, as the rest of us listened. “They give us bread and nothing more. We have no say, no escape, because we are part of the same system we oppose. Sometimes we forget, but because we are used to it.”

“Used to what?” one of the bakers shouted.

Hani gave a knowing smile, the whole room silent at his feet: “Used to being governed, used to feeling that way every single day.”

The somber tone quickly subsided, the serious subject matter as well. Two of the bakers mocked my somewhat formal attire. “Are you going to propose to someone? Is there a wedding when you return to England?”

These men had only ever seen me in run-down work apparel: track bottoms and faded T-shirts. Two others asked if I had gotten to eat my favorite foods in the past few days, whether I would try to smuggle some falafel through customs control—my complaints about English cuisine had been profuse. I glanced at my phone. It was almost ten. The traffic and the lines at the airport were unpredictable. I had to go. After bidding each baker adieu, I saw Hani quickly bag a couple of kilos of bread and generously toss them on top of my travel bag.

“So you remember us,” he whispered, as he wrapped me in his arms. I waved good-bye to the others. Hani ambled uphill with me to my rental car. “Be humble. Be kind. Be generous,” he counseled, as I bundled my things into the vehicle. “And don’t forget. We are governed through bread, but this is not the whole story.”

As I drove to the airport and boarded my flight, I thought back to my very first conversation with Hani, on a similarly unclouded September day. I had arrived at his bakery more than a year earlier, with nothing more than a hasty introduction via telephone from a prominent member of the Bakery Owners Association. Bewildered by my request to bake without compensation (his first response was to ask whether the CIA didn’t have better ways to spend its time), Hani had asked what my research was really about. Why, given my stated lack of interest in opening a bakery, did I want to study bread, and in this unusual fashion?

Anxious and hesitant, I decided to come clean. “There is this debate that I have come across, which revolves around a concept—the democracy of bread (dimuqratiyyat al-khubz). It says that in the Middle East, citizens exchange bread for freedom. I want to know if this is accurate, and working here might help me figure it out.”

Hani’s eyes widened, and an ironic grin appeared as he nodded his head. “So . . . There is a big question here, a complicated one,” he granted, as he sized me up.

Although it had long been a matter of concern, since 2010 bread had become an increasingly palpable and debated symbol. Hoisted aloft at any number of protests, it stood alongside freedom (huriyya) and social justice (aʿdala ijtemaʿiiyya) in countless chants intoned during the Arab uprisings. In a related set of debates, bread came to be positioned as an icon of subsistence and well-being, a symbol of stability that was impossible to achieve alongside public participation. Bread or democracy (khubz am al-dimuqratiyya) was the central question, suggesting that one had to choose. Bread and democracy was the most frequent and emphatic answer. Hani, I would later learn, was unsatisfied by these arguments. They assumed outcomes, as if bread or democracy came fully formed and one could simply choose between the two.

“All right. Come back tomorrow at four thirty in the morning and we will see what you can do,” he told me, skeptical that I would last more than a couple of days (as he later confessed). I awkwardly mumbled a hurried thank-you, fearful that he might regret his decision and rescind the offer. “Listen,” Hani bellowed as I started to walk away. “Lesson one. Bread is never the beginning or the end. It’s always the middle.”

To my mind, Hani’s account is illuminating in its sensibility: it is colored by shrewd discontent but unmarred by embittered doctrines or naïve reductionism. Hani is alert to the contradictions that characterize political action and the conundrums that come with being governed by something we can feel, hear, smell, and discuss, but never see. He knows that while he may act and achieve, he is also always and inevitably being acted upon. He can discern the lineaments of the script that both empowers and disempowers him, circumstances that are familiar but hardly reassuring. Conscripted into a world not of his own choosing, Hani seeks no easy escape from tragedy, knowing full well that he is obliged to live amid the violences, exclusions, and inequalities that compose modern mechanisms of rule—the state foremost among them. Like most of us, he has nowhere to go.


My focus on subsidized khubz ‘arabi as both an ethnographic object and an analytic vantage point is driven by its omnipresence in Jordan. One can stumble upon this bread, or on something made with it, on almost any block of the country’s cities and towns. It is the crucial base for a wide array of sandwiches and an ingredient in dishes such as fatoush (salad) and fetteh (thick yogurt with soft chickpeas). In other meals, subsidized bread functions as both a utensil (for dipping) and a vessel (for filling). Without it, one cannot fathom eating other dishes. It is regularly the only foodstuff at a meal that is touched by each diner and passed around among all of them. It makes eating “family style” both convenient and easy and helps obviate the need for individual portions. The amount of subsidized bread present does tend to index the class position of diners, of course. The more upscale the meal, the more numerous the dips and salads (mezze) as well as grilled meats (mashawi), and the less central the main carbohydrate. Yet no matter how many other dishes are served, a meal is not complete without bread. It is the cornerstone of almost every repast, the linchpin of daily cuisine.

Bread’s political importance can be explained, in part, by its centrality to the diets of Jordan’s poor and working classes. Residents of the Hashemite Kingdom are estimated to consume a loaf of this bread per day, averaging around ninety kilograms of bread per person annually.1 Reliance on subsidized bread is most pronounced in Jordan’s poverty pockets, where average monthly food expenditures go almost entirely to cereals; some residents consume khubz ‘arabi at every meal of the day.2 Support for this welfare program, however, is not limited to the Jordanian poor nor the marginalized areas where they live. Cheap bread functions as an emergency relief program for Syrian refugees. It also feeds low-salaried and migrant workers, underwriting the labor costs of small and large businesses. Lastly, the bread subsidy facilitates a certain quality of life among Jordan’s lower middle class, which helps explain why support for the policy defies a simple class logic. But subsidized bread does more than nourish, nurture, and sustain; it generates effects in excess of its obdurately alimentary ones. The recurring provision of khubz ‘arabi engenders a relationship to political authority, to the structures and sovereigns deemed accountable for its presence. And while the provision of food by the powerful has a long and variable history in the Middle East, it is only over the past hundred years, as a result of the encounter with European colonialism, that such allocations have begotten patterns of rule that appear fixed and enduring rather than temporary and ephemeral.3

Khubz ‘arabi’s price is fixed, its distribution closely regulated and consumption heavily underwritten. In this sense, it functions as a mechanism for the provision of social welfare—a service, infrastructure, and/or program intended to promote the well-being and security of recipients.4 Considered in this way, the bread subsidy appears deceptively simple. Analyzing it seems easy, using verifiable outputs and consequent conclusions—how much bread is provided, who consumes it, what social classes benefit from its provision. Alternatively, one could ask why this welfare program exists, what struggles explain its emergence, and whose interests it serves. Still, in these formulations, welfare assumes purely static properties. It is the product of key variables—class struggle, regime type, administrative capacity, cultural proclivities—or the backdrop through which other dynamics—patronage, corruption, sectarianism, good governance—are elucidated.5 I went to Jordan to explore precisely these conundrums, in order to scrutinize what scholars term the welfare state. Although they have not been as rigorously studied as examples in Europe and the United States, an increasing number of political scientists have set out to study the programs through which governments in the Global South protect and promote the well-being of citizens.6 But in most accounts, welfare stands in for something else; it is either the beginning or end but never what Hani taught me: the middle. As a result, we have little sense of how welfare programs are built, maintained, used, and perceived. More troublingly, welfare’s relationship to political authority lies obscured.

Like other welfare programs, subsidized bread is composed from a wide array of people, processes, and things. Jordan’s Ministry of Finance purchases wheat through public tenders that invite bids from competing suppliers. Once a price is agreed on with a qualified bidder, the cereal is sourced from a variety of countries, increasingly Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. It arrives in the southern port of Aqaba, where it is examined by officials of both the Jordan Food and Drug Administration and the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Supply (MOITS). These officers test the wheat for contaminants hazardous to plants, people, or animals. If it is deemed acceptable, which it is in the overwhelming majority of cases, discharge begins. Following approval, the wheat is transported to several storage facilities, the largest and most important of which are operated by the government-owned Jordan Silos and Supply General Company. The cereal is then stored according to the tender in which it arrived, as well as its country of origin. Around one million metric tons of wheat enter the country annually in this fashion.

Then, anywhere from three to nine months later, a unit within MOITS’s storage division blends different shipments in order to obtain ideal protein levels. The resulting wheat mixtures are transported to one of fourteen privately owned flour mills, where they are made into several types of flour. Only one of these varieties (colloquially referred to as muwwahad), milled at a 78% extraction rate and sold below market price and financed by the government, can be used for the production of subsidized bread. Each sack of this discounted flour is endorsed by a ministry official before departing the flour mill. It is then shipped through a network of sanctioned distributors to privately owned bakeries scattered across the Hashemite Kingdom. Each of these bread-makers receives an allocation of muwwahad that depends on the number of customers they serve. At the bakery, the discounted flour allocations are mixed with water, salt, sugar, and yeast. The resulting dough is deposited in a bakery owner’s oven of choice and then withdrawn as khubz ‘arabi, a flat, round loaf about sixteen inches in diameter. This bread must be sold at the discounted price of 16 qirsh (US$0.25) per kilogram to any and all consumers, irrespective of age, income, or nationality. MOITS officials regularly inspect bakeries to ensure that this is the case.

The exertions, expertise, and know-how required to provide bread should probably have come as no surprise to me, but they did, precisely because the study of welfare services in political science tends to elide the objects, people, and ideas that compose such services, as well as their productive effects. Welfare is a completed process or one that fails to be completed; it is never an ongoing action. But what becomes apparent at the bakery is that subsidized bread is a living and lively thing. As we will see, ambiguous regulations, haphazard standardizations, convoluted decisions, and fluctuating ingredients permeate this welfare service. Subsidized bread is the contingent outcome of humans and nonhumans working together and in cooperation, a marshaling of agencies that coalesce to make khubz ‘arabi not only cheap and accessible but edible and appetizing. And while this welfare program is composed of nothing but an amalgam of sociomaterial practices, its regularity, uniformity, and arrangement create the effect of a structure—the state—that seems to exist outside this world of practice, separate from the society it organizes, manages, and dominates.7 That is to say, welfare has performative dimensions. It is not simply a reflection or result but a congealing that acts and does, authorizes and renews a set of relations that produce an effect.


My approach to the study of the state is to view it as an achievement, an effect always in formation, not an axiomatic structure that is. In doing so, I draw on a host of thinkers inclined to disavow the premises of representationalism, in which there are ontologically discrete entities that exist prior to and separate from their representation. The state is there, representationalist works posit, it has discernible boundaries and properties that need simply to be identified and measured. Friedrich Nietzsche, a precursor of the performative, posits that no such prior entities exist: “there is no ‘being’ behind the doing, acting, becoming; the ‘doer’ has simply been added by the imagination—the doing is everything.”8 In this spirit, I want to do more than simply contend that the state is a construction, an assertion broadly accepted in most social scientific circles. Instead, this book explores some of the ways in which the state is performatively constituted and how, in turn, this edifice subsists.

Judith Butler, who popularized the term “performativity,” wrestles with readings that claim that sexuality is either biologically determined or socially constructed. These oppositions can never fully capture the complexity of what is at stake, Butler argues, for they assume either a fixed entity or an acting subject.9 Alternatively, they divide the world into representations and the world they represent, instead of troubling the distinction between the two. States of Subsistence accepts, as a point of departure, that there are neither pre-existing subjects nor institutions, but rather processes of reiteration by which both subjects and institutions come to appear at all.10 Working in Butler’s wake, I want to build upon and extend their insights to upend the presumption that the state is a metaphysical substance that precedes its instantiation. Instead, the state requires, indeed relies upon, iterative practices. It is an effect of power rather than its source. Performativity captures precisely the repetitiveness and flux of this process, the constrained and ritualized actions that engender ontological effects. To be clear, these acts are a matter neither of self-presentation nor of theatrical performance, frameworks that reinscribe the willful liberal subject that Butler rejects. Performativity denotes less a doer than a doing, an effecting by a collection of forces and things that precede, compel, and exceed any one performance.

This book lavishes attention on precisely these doings, and on the ways in which the state is performed in and through them. It does so in contradistinction to much of comparative political science, which conceptualizes the state as a delimited institutional actor, separate from the citizens it acts upon, governs, and controls. The state’s capacity or power is then condensed to what can be observed or quantified: the ability of government institutions to extract revenue,11 exercise legitimate violence,12 or provide public goods.13 Observations at these levels or in some amalgam of sectors are then made to represent the state as a whole, by analogy or extension.14 An epistemological project of creation, patently in need of explanation, is granted ontological status as a given.

In his influential essay “The Limits of the State,” Timothy Mitchell contests precisely this given-ness, along with the state–society distinction upon which it relies. Rather than state and society being two discrete entities, he posits that the threshold between them is a line drawn through and within the very practices by which a political order is maintained. That this distinction appears as a boundary between separate spheres is not only an aberration manufactured by scholars but the product of modern mechanisms of power and the varying ways they enable ordinary practices to take on the appearance of an abstract form, what Mitchell terms, in an earlier book, the “peculiar metaphysic of modernity.”15 Structure is divorced from content, action from intention, meaning from materiality, representation from reality, society from the ostensibly autonomous state. Crucial here is Mitchell’s reading of Michel Foucault, who furnishes him with the notion of disciplines, microphysical methods of order that do not work as an exterior force or prohibition but operate from within, producing subjects rather than simply repressing them. He adds that just as these disciplinary mechanisms—the way space is partitioned, bodies distributed, and movements coordinated—“become internal in this way, and by the same methods, they now appear to take the novel form of external structures.”16

It is here that I want to depart from Mitchell, and in a way that mirrors a shift in Foucault’s own thinking. In his analysis of the French physiocrat Louis-Paul Abeille, which appears at the beginning of his 1978 lectures, Foucault finds a modification in governmental thinking in response to problems—food scarcity, demographic explosion, industrialization—that could not be managed through extant tools.17 Whereas disciplinary power seeks to control and possess bodies, managing the grain trade is impossible through such mechanisms. Instead, government requires restrained interventions into processes that can never be fully proscribed. Farmers, bakers, consumers, and traders do not allow straightforward command and control. Disciplinary mechanisms that must constantly intervene become uneconomical, exacerbating the problems (scarcity and famine) they were meant to resolve. Other modes of governing are required. Abeille’s appraisal offers an “irruptive moment of critical reflection”18 and marks a turn essential to Foucault’s theorization of government. Vital to this shift is the concept of biopolitics, not as a global diagnosis of power relations but as a configuration of rule that targets the population through the management of its biological life.19 Faced with processes they can never fully contain (shortages of wheat, for example), governmental techniques aspire instead to shape conduct, using regulatory instruments that can better respond to population growth, urbanization, and increased exchange. There are, of course, important differences between Foucault’s dissection of (neo) liberalism as a form of political reason and governing emergent in the Global North, and the very different set of historical circumstances that obtained in the Hashemite Kingdom. And while the grain trade will prove crucial to my own story, what I want to foreground here is how the productivity of power extends beyond the disciplinary, operating through regulatory mechanisms that manage life at the level of the population, not just the individual. Mitchell himself gestures towards these regulatory mechanisms, contrasting them with earlier, less synchronized forms of domination. Whereas imprinting political authority once required periodic acts of violence and countless techniques of euphemization, new mechanisms make patterns of rule seem both settled and permanent.20 Yet Mitchell never fleshes out how exactly routinized practices enable these patterns of rule to reproduce themselves.21 Here, then, is the aporia that interests me. The objective of this book is to specify the mechanisms by which the state is materially and discursively rendered; to scrutinize how welfare services instantiate in subjects and subjectivities this structural effect; to examine the modes of agency that occur amid these processes; and equally, to gauge the impact of these dynamics on the modes of compliance, defiance, and struggle that traverse Jordanian political life. Throughout, I exhibit how a theory of the performative not only disrupts but can also enrich political analysis.

First formulated by the English philosopher J. L. Austin, the performative has a long and checkered history; it has been regularly invoked in cursory and incompatible ways.22 In its initial form, Austin deployed the term to distinguish between constative utterances such as the “cat sat on the mat,” which can be assessed as true or false, and performative ones, such as “I name this ship King Edward,” in which the utterance itself carries out the action. Austin’s fundamental point was that language is not solely an instrument used to represent the world it describes, but also works to change it by generating meaning through linguistic utterances. In the case of performatives, he surmised that their “success” was always circumstantial, their uptake dependent on conventions and conditions being in place when they were uttered.23 Austin’s vocabulary was soon adopted by others, who rarely agreed about what the performative meant or the possibilities it afforded for understanding social phenomena.

In a generative engagement with the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Jacques Derrida, Butler gives the performative a Foucauldian gloss. Through their critique of metaphysical presumptions linked to the category of gender, Butler displaces the notion of a stable ontological subject that prefigures action and language. They do so through an elaborate notion of performativity, one that emphasizes “embodied rituals of everydayness” and “social iterability,” the norms, forces, and repetitions through which the body is composed.24 Performative acts are thus not reducible to verbal utterances spoken by an established subject; their force is that of a “citational chain lived and believed at the level of the body.”25 This is why the domain of performativity both includes and exceeds the verbal and written. In other words, the model of the speaking subject that usually works as the paradigm for theorizing performativity cannot fully capture how the latter works. Instead of discrete verbal enunciations or speech acts, it is a set of relations and practices that must be constantly renewed, in domains that traverse the human and nonhuman.26 Gender ceases to be the product of an identity ascribed at birth and becomes the result of performative acts that, through regularized and constrained repetition, work to forge us as gendered subjects. Butler forces us to question the ontological status that pre-given entities, already knowable, identifiable, and bounded, occupy within the social sciences more generally. But how are these ontological effects produced?

Karen Barad’s posthuman feminism offers perhaps the most productive reworking of Butler’s oeuvre in this regard. Through close engagement with the work of the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and his philosophical reflections on quantum mechanics, Barad arrives at an agential realist elaboration of performativity, one that accounts for the fact that “forces at work in the materialization of bodies are not only social, and the bodies produced are not all human.”27 Crucial here is her account of how materiality and discourse are constituted by and through each other, sutured together in a constant exchange.28 Matter and humans, like the atomic entities Bohr examines, are considered not independent objects with determinate boundaries but the provisional result of intra-action (rather than inter-action, which would presume their prior existence). In drawing attention to the role of boundary-making practices in quantum experiments, Barad pushes us to ask not what structures are, but how certain phenomena come to be, to consider them as practical accomplishments that transpire through the reiterated materializations of bodies that are not exclusively human. Freed from anthropocentric limitations, performativity is no longer understood “as iterative citationality (Butler) but rather iterative intra-activity.”29

The performative has been taken up in a number of fields, notably in science and technology studies and its most influential theoretical strand, actor network theory.30 The latter has proven especially adept at identifying how amalgams of humans and nonhumans “take their form and acquire their attributes as a result of their relations with other entities, the actor is generated in and by these relationships.”31 The economy, as Michel Callon and Donald MacKenzie’s powerful set of works demonstrate, does not exist in the abstract but is produced on the ground by an elaborate set of framing efforts aligning a variety of agencies and forces, practices and technologies that repeatedly work to stabilize its coordinates.32 These alignments can succeed in instantiating the economy, just as they can fail if certain objects or actors jeopardize their coherence.33 The performative has also proven useful to students of nationalism. Lisa Wedeen’s formidable work on national identity in Yemen has illustrated some of the ways in which a theory of politics as performative helps denaturalize “political identification,” drawing attention to the “mechanisms that make identity categories seem fixed.”34 Despite several important differences, all these theorists share a critique of representationalism—the belief in the metaphysical distinction between representations and that which they claim to represent. All challenge the capacity of words to stand in for pre-existing things and reject the bracketing out of practices, particularly those through which representations are produced. The concept of performativity, as I will use it here, echoes these aversions and pushes against continued attempts to study politics by capturing properties of an observation-independent reality that scholars merely uncover. I will suggest, and seek to demonstrate, that the state too is performed, sidestepping its deconstruction in order to attend to its dubious solidity.

The bread subsidy is a particularly rewarding site in which to follow the work of performativity because it allows us to denaturalize the state as a pre-given structure and focus instead on one of the recurring processes through which it is produced. While these practices may be most obvious during violent conflict or liberation struggles, as in wartime Syria or the Tibetan government-in-exile,35 they are always present, often sustained and frequently enhanced by people and practices outside the centers of officialdom.36 The ministry official who allocates wheat to certain bakeries, the citizen who purchases subsidized bread, the petitioner who denounces corruption in the bread sector, and the baker who produces his wares from discounted flour all participate in intra-actions through which the state is performed. To emphasize a point made earlier, intentions need not dictate these practices. They need only repeat, echo, or reiterate a set of relations that prime citizens to inhabit and act in a world in which the state reigns supreme, “as if there was such a thing sui generis.”37 And it is in the everyday lives of Jordanian citizens that such uptake is best assessed. For it is an empirical question whether, where, and when a particular welfare service comes to be considered as the bearer of the state’s imprint.


1. Ala al-Qiraleh, “Al-Hamawi: Iritfāʿa istihlāk al-khubz 15% muqārana mʿa al-‘ām al-māḍī” [Al-Hamawi: 15% rise in bread consumption compared to last year], Al-Raʿi, August 21, 2014, article/665039.html/. Because the subsidy is universal and non-exclusionary, only unreliable estimates exist for the amount of subsidized bread consumed by Jordanian citizens as opposed to all residents.

2. In these pockets, more than 80% of average monthly food expenditures go to cereals. World Food Programme, “Jordan Food Security Survey in the Poverty Pockets,” August–September 2008, groups/public/documents/ena/wfp204530.pdf/.

3. For more on how the colonial encounter introduced modes of governance radically at odds with the socio-ethical and political formations that had worked to form Muslim subjects beforehand, see Wael Hallaq, The Impossible State: Islam, Politics and Modernity’s Moral Predicament (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 62–63; Wael Hallaq, Restating Orientalism: A Critique of Modern Knowledge (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 79–84; Tamim Al-Barghouti, The Umma and the Dawla: The Nation State and the Arab Middle East (London: Pluto Press, 2008).

4. Melani Cammett and Lauren M. MacLean, “Introduction: The Political Consequences of Non-State Social Welfare in the Global South,” Studies in Comparative International Development 46, no. 1 (2011): 4.

5. For examples of the former kind of framework, see Nita Rudra and Stephan Haggard, “Globalization, Democracy, and Effective Welfare Spending in the Developing World,” Comparative Political Studies 38, no. 9 (2005): 1015–49; Brian Min, Power and the Vote: Elections and Electricity in the Developing World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Madeline Baer, “Private Water, Public Good: Water Privatization and State Capacity in Chile,” Studies in Comparative International Development 49, no. 2 (2014): 141–67; Simone Dietrich and Michael Bernhard, “State or Regime? The Impact of Institutions on Welfare Outcomes,” The European Journal of Development Research 28, no. 2 (2016): 252–69; Jennifer Pribble, Welfare and Party Politics in Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). For examples of the latter, see Melani Cammett, Compassionate Communalism: Welfare and Sectarianism in Lebanon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014); Jennifer Bussell, Clients and Constituents: Political Responsiveness in Patronage Democracies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019); Adam Michael Auerbach, Demanding Development: The Politics of Public Goods Provision in India’s Urban Slums (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

6. For two useful summaries, see Miriam Golden and Brian Min, “Distributive Politics around the World,” Annual Review of Political Science 16 (2013): 73–99; Isabela Mares and Matthew E. Carnes, “Social Policy in Developing Countries,” Annual Review of Political Science 12 (2009): 93–113.

7. Timothy Mitchell, “Everyday Metaphors of Power,” Theory and Society 19, no. 5 (1990): 571.

8. See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956), 178–79.

9. Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (New York: Routledge, 2011), 59.

10. Butler, Bodies that Matter, xviii; Judith Butler, “Performative Agency,” Journal of Cultural Economy 3, no. 2 (2010): 147–61.

11. Timothy Besley and Torsten Persson, “The Origins of State Capacity: Property Rights, Taxation, and Politics,” American Economic Review 99, no. 4 (2009): 1218–44; Richard Snyder and Ravi Bhavnani, “Diamonds, Blood, and Taxes: A Revenue-Centered Framework for Explaining Political Order,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 49, no. 4 (2005): 563–97; Evan S. Lieberman, “Taxation Data as Indicators of State-Society Relations: Possibilities and Pitfalls in Cross-National Research,” Studies in Comparative International Development 36, no. 4 (2002).

12. Carles Boix, “Economic Roots of Civil Wars and Revolutions in the Contemporary World,” World Politics 60, no. 3 (2008): 390–437; Merete Bech Seeberg, “State Capacity and the Paradox of Authoritarian Elections,” Democratization 21, no. 7 (2014): 1265–85.

13. Lauren M. MacLean, “State Retrenchment and the Exercise of Citizenship in Africa,” Comparative Political Studies 44, no. 9 (2011): 1238–66; Zeynep Taydas and Dursun Peksen, “Can States Buy Peace? Social Welfare Spending and Civil Conflicts,” Journal of Peace Research 49, no. 2 (2012): 273–87.

14. Hendrix argues that survey measures of bureaucratic quality and the tax-collecting capabilities of state institutions are the most theoretically and empirically justified measurements of state capacity. For a survey of this literature, which concludes by defending a multivariate approach to modeling state capacity, see Cullen S. Hendrix, “Measuring State Capacity: Theoretical and Empirical Implications for the Study of Civil Conflict,” Journal of Peace Research 47, no. 3 (2010): 273–85.

15. Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), xii.

16. Timothy Mitchell, “The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and Their Critics,” American Political Science Review 85, no. 1 (1991): 93.

17. My reading here draws on Stephen Collier’s interpretation of Foucault’s later works. For more, see Stephen J. Collier, “Topologies of Power: Foucault’s Analysis of Political Government beyond ‘Governmentality,’Theory, Culture & Society 26, no. 6 (2009): 78–108.

18. Collier, “Topologies of Power,” 91.

19. Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010).

20. Mitchell, “Everyday Metaphors of Power,” 567.

21. This is one of the reasons why Mitchell’s insightful article has been interpreted and put to use in such vastly different ways. It may also be a result of Mitchell’s reliance on the earlier works of Foucault, as the later parts of Foucault’s oeuvre had not yet been translated.

22. For a useful summary, see James Loxley, Performativity (London: Routledge, 2007).

23. Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 198.

24. Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (London: Routledge, 1997), 155; Loxley, Performativity, 134.

25. Butler, Excitable Speech, 155; Judith Butler, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015), 163, 176. In political science, Cynthia Weber’s work has drawn on Butler’s insights and outlined a similar understanding of performativity with regard to sovereignty. Cynthia Weber, “Performative States,” Millennium 27, no. 1 (1998): 77–95.

26. Butler more robustly acknowledges the role of the nonhuman in more recent works. See Butler, “Performative Agency,” 147–61.

27. Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 33–34.

28. Karen Barad, “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28, no. 3 (2003): 815.

29. Barad, “Posthumanist Performativity,” 828.

30. Brett Christophers, “From Marx to Market and Back Again: Performing the Economy,” Geoforum 57 (2014): 12–20.

31. John Law, “After ANT: Complexity, Naming and Topology,” The Sociological Review 47, no. 1 (1999): 4, emphasis in original.

32. Michel Callon, ed., The Laws of the Markets (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998); Donald MacKenzie, “The Big, Bad Wolf and the Rational Market: Portfolio Insurance, the 1987 Crash and the Performativity of Economics,” Economy and Society 33, no. 3 (2004): 303–34; Donald MacKenzie, “Is Economics Performative? Option Theory and the Construction of Derivatives Markets,” Journal of the History of Economic Thought 28, no. 1 (2006): 29–55; Donald MacKenzie, An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006).

33. For a fascinating account of how flawed material props (measuring chains, maps, iron rods) jeopardized the production of Egyptian markets in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, see Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

34. Lisa Wedeen, Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power and Performance in Yemen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 213.

35. Fiona McConnell, Rehearsing the State: The Political Practices of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2016); José Ciro Martínez and Brent Eng, “Struggling to Perform the State: The Politics of Bread in the Syrian Civil War,” International Political Sociology 11, no. 2 (2017): 130–47; José Ciro Martínez and Brent Eng, “Stifling Stateness: The Assad Regime’s Campaign against Rebel Governance,” Security Dialogue 49, no. 4 (2018): 235–53.

36. For more on how extra-official ethnographic loci can offer insights into how the state takes shape among ordinary people, see Yael Navaro, Faces of the State: Secularism and Public Life in Turkey (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Begoña Aretxaga, “Maddening States,” Annual Review of Anthropology 32, no. 1 (2003): 393–410; Noah Salomon, For Love of the Prophet: An Ethnography of Sudan’s Islamic State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016); Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999).

37. Navaro, Faces of the State, 179.