GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Entangled in Boundaries: Migrant Workers and the Spatial Politics of Identity in Qatar
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper focuses on boundaries, being primarily a spatial notion, as multi-dimensional structuring system that underlies the relationship of the migrant workers to the geography of the urban environment and accessibility to public spaces in Doha city. It explores how social, economic, and psychological systems of boundaries that surround migrant workers are inscribed in space and expressed on symbolic and physical levels in quintessential features that define the urbanscape of Doha as city in the Gulf region. It probes the dynamics of the formation of these boundaries generated by the material, demographic, and political transformation of Qatar and their consolidation mechanisms implicit in the state-controlled models for development since oil discovery. It argues that this system of boundaries basically defines a hierarchy of identifies and privileges that are instrumental for consolidating and legitimizing the power structure in the country. In this hierarchy, the disempowered and marginalized identity of the majority migrant workers inversely define that of the locals as privileged elite. The paper explores the spatial expression of this identity dynamics in the demographic localization of social groups in Doha city. It focuses on the ghettoization culture which defines an exclusionary urban model according to a pronounced social and economic hierarchy that is most disadvantageous to low-wage migrant workers. This group often occupy areas at the outskirts of the city and is housed in deplorable and prison-like camps. The paper argues that the socio-spatial isolation of the low-wage migrant workers is akin to an urban apartheid where mobility, communication, and other rights and means of empowerment are restricted as means of control and discipline. These spatial tactics of control consolidate and complement other economic and political means of disengagement and besiegement exercised by mainstream society. Finally, the paper evaluates the role of government’s official policies in challenging or cloaking these practices and discusses approaches for integrating migrant workers into the urban environment of the city.