Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


International Affairs

First Advisor

Jessica Martin

Second Advisor

Vicki Hunter

Third Advisor

Michael Kanner


Since the discovery of oil on the Peninsula in 1932, Saudi Arabian society has been fractured by societal changes. Petroleum revenue has enabled the Saud dynasty to engage in rentier policies and bypass traditional methods of wealth extraction, civic participation, and institutions to build social capital. But as new conditions render the rentier policies of the Saudi state unsustainable, socioeconomic institutions may again rise to political prominence. In Early Renaissance Florence, guilds gained control of the government in response to the inability of the old ruling class to respond to the new conditions of the late Middle Ages. The guilds fostered social capital, which led to Florentine political and cultural dominance throughout the Renaissance and allowed the Medici dynasty to consolidate political power. In modern Saudi Arabia, rentierism has enabled social capital to atrophy, but the fall of rentierism will require an alternative means of income generation if the Kingdom is to remain politically and socially stable. One tenable method of achieving this goal is to create social capital. Three institutions already extant in Saudi society appear theoretically capable of transitioning to fill this role: income-focused petroleum corporations, the state-sponsored religion known as Wahhabism, and tribal affiliations. This thesis argues that while none of these institutions by themselves are capable of accomplishing all the tasks of Florentine guilds, each may hold part of the key to extending the tenure of the Saud dynasty. The Saud are currently positioning these institutions to adapt for the future as the Saudi economy transitions from rentierism. A deeper understanding of how social capital interacts with modern Middle Eastern economic and societal transitions can be gained by comparing the unconventional cases of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Renaissance Republic of Florence.