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Abstract

This thesis is an ethnographic study of embodied encounters between women and the processes, offices and officials of the state as well as its documentary practices in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The thesis accounts for the state as the most salient force impinging on the way people are able to be with each other and for each other. In the context of gender reform in the post-September 11 period, the state is increasingly engaged with the woman question, and the relationship of women to the state is gradually more direct. The state is neither imposing nor monolithic, and its cacophony of voices and institutions enables women to reimagine what it can offer them in terms of rights and resources, all the while aware of how the state itself hampers their efforts to obtain these rights. This thesis further ethnographically shares the experiences and interactions of women as they navigate the bureaucratic arena in order to initiate and obtain divorce or other divorce-related rights, including alimony and communication. In the process, they come to draw on a range of practices including recording and reporting abuse, and filing and petitioning state offices through documents, letters and paper proofs. While they are made vulnerable a priori by their embeddedness within the established male guardianship system, and they enter into drawn-out processes of negotiation with the judiciary, they depend upon themselves first and foremost to develop new ways of being-with themselves, their families and ultimately the state. Indeed, and throughout these encounters, women are central actors in renegotiating and redrawing new boundaries around their intimate lives.

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