GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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On Learning and Traveling: The Women's Student Dormitory at Qatar University
Paper Proposal Text :
For over a decade, Qatari educational reform has positioned globalized education as a development strategy that promotes ‘Qatarization’ a national program aimed at increasing the number of Qatari citizens in both the private and public sectors. Recently, scholars have explored this program’s distinctive logics of inclusion and exclusion through the influx of western branch campuses at Education City in Qatar (Vora 2014). However, Qatar University, the country’s national public university, is peculiarly situated in the reform process. While incorporated into reform strategies devised to cultivate ‘global citizenship,’ the university is commonly described as ‘indigenous,’ relegated to Qatari citizens who prefer a more traditional option.

During a period (2001-2012) of institutional reform predicated on international mobility and travel, the Qatar University dormitory takes on special significance. In some ways, the dormitory is at the margins of Qatar University itself—serving scholarship and international students, mainly from outside of Qatar, with a limited stipend. Additionally, the dormitory is the primary location where international students are initiated into the national educational system. It is advertised as the most diverse space of the national university—similar, in many ways, to advertised descriptions of the “multicultural” offerings of Education City’s American branch campuses. Considering these spates of reform that emphasize the imperatives of nationalization and the production of internationally mobile citizens, I ask: what assumptions are made about the relationship between student’s national and international mobility and the production of knowledge by the country’s only national university? How are students’ diverse educational aspirations engaged through housing accommodations?

This paper explores the forms of educational relationships and friendships sanctioned by a key space of students’ lives in Qatar University: the women’s dormitory. Ethnographic sketches detail the dormitory’s material structure, its relationship with Qatar University and Education City, and the students, workers, and administrators inhabiting it. Differential student mobility and educational expectations are imposed and re-inscribed by the housing administration through room assignments and curfew; however, distinctions also developed through varying student mobility and access to the wider city, whether due to nationality, gender, race, physical appearance, and/or financial means. As the housing administration’s differential treatment of students facilitated the possibilities and impossibilities for friendship, university-wide events promoted cordial, educational interactions oriented by the exchange-value of language and cultural acquisition. In the daily expressions of dormitory friendships, long-term students often described these instances of exchange as using, or ‘instrumental friendship.’ Instead of cultivating these relationships solicited by the university, older students withdrew from these opportunities for cross-cultural sociality. In fact, older, long-term international students often expressed their unfriendliness as knowledge. This knowledge was acquired through the miserable process of learning that short-term study-abroad students would soon return home, leaving long-term students feeling used and abandoned as vessels of multicultural learning.