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The Diwaniyya in Urban Kuwaiti Society: A Reflection of Socio-Spatial and Diplomatic Realities

CHAY, CLEMENS,SHENGRONG (2019) The Diwaniyya in Urban Kuwaiti Society: A Reflection of Socio-Spatial and Diplomatic Realities. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Diwaniyyas, also known in colloquial Kuwaiti Arabic as diwawin (pl.), are places of social gathering for Kuwaiti men to discuss issues relevant to them. The term ‘diwaniyya’ refers to both the physical confines of this reception room, and the practice of congregating in this designated space. The diwaniyya culture has its roots in tribal customs, and later became entrenched in Kuwaiti society owing to the country’s maritime past. More recently, scholarly attention accorded to the diwaniyya revolves around its political potential, featuring notably as spaces for electoral campaigning.

This study aims to provide an overdue elucidation of the diwaniyya’s persistent and changing social roles, which run in tandem with the fabric of Kuwaiti society itself – the family. By looking beyond the bifurcation of Kuwait’s historiography (pre-oil and post-oil eras), this study locates the diwaniyya practice across different time periods during which Kuwait undergoes a series of socio-spatial changes, including the advent of oil wealth, modernisation and urbanisation. The malleability of the diwaniyya, as an interlinked space and practice, maintains social networks and bridges generations, allowing for the constant circulation of social and cultural ‘capitals,’ key theories of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. By further employing Jürgen Habermas’ concept of the public sphere which invokes the feasibility of discursive institutions, this study also examines how public participation is fostered from the physicality of space, to the intimate sphere of the family, and then projected onto the mediating role of the diwaniyya between public and private realms.

The diwaniyya is equally appealing to foreign diplomats who recognise its social qualities and political potential. In this light, this study seeks to challenge the mainstream definition of diplomacy, often situated in the European canon emphasising professionalisation and bureaucratisation. By exploring how human agency is transplanted from the grassroots level into the diplomatic realm, this study finds that the diwaniyya represents a fascinating hybrid of state and non-state ‘diplomacy’ rooted in cultural tradition.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:diwaniyya, diplomacy, public diplomacy, social space, social capital, cultural capital, kuwait, tradition, gulf, family, urbanisation
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Government and International Affairs, School of
Thesis Date:2019
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:15 Jul 2019 10:05

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