GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Trailing a Blaze in the Dubai desert: how Irish 'wafideens' lever ageny to empowerment
Paper Proposal Text :
The first aim of this paper is to examine the concept of the “third gender” (Adler, 1987) as one of the “re-working strategies” of Irish female migrant professionals to navigate their position in Dubai, which is situated within an exclusionary framework of migration and within an Islamic cultural context. Drawing on the extant literature in female expatriation, which has identified that Western expatriate women working abroad are primarily and advantageously perceived as foreign women (‘a wafideen’) by their colleagues, the “third gender” (Adler, 1987), as a social and cultural construction, has been shown to allow women to occupy a different, more advantageous social position, with more degrees of freedom and less gender-based discrimination. The second aim of this paper is to extend the work of Stalker (2014) by examining the practical manifestations of the use of the third gender by Irish female migrant professionals. Drawing on empirical evidence, the paper will explain how the application of the third gender advantage by Irish female migrant professionals, manifests as a unique form of migrant capital that can be negotiated and accumulated through the intersections of ethnicity, social class and gender whilst simultaneously being constructed in place. Finally, this paper also demonstrates how the concept of the third gender impacts on Irish female migrant professionals’ opportunities to build networks and generate other forms of capital, which supports and embeds Irish female migrant professionals’ position within the migrant hierarchy.

There is evidence of an Irish community emerging in the UAE since the 1970s with a surge in those moving to Dubai since 2008. The overall aim of my research is to theorise contemporary Dubai-Irish migration drawing on the concept of labour agency (Herod, 2001). Flowing from this aim, the objectives of the research are to identify the ‘re-working strategies’ (Cumbers, 2010) of the Dubai-Irish to overcome constraints and optimise opportunities within this ‘migrant hierarchy’ (Jamal, 2015), to analyse the connection between social and professional networks in which these re-working strategies permeate, and to critically assess the differentiated dimensions of embedding (Ryan and Mulholland, 2015; Korinek, 2005; Hess, 2004) arising from these reworking strategies in a spatial and temporal context, and within a ‘new immigrant destination’ (Lee, Carling and Orrenius, 2014).

The research makes a new contribution to knowledge in several ways: the research documents Irish migration to Dubai, addresses a gap in the labour geography literature that calls for a reconceptualising of labour agency in new spatialities and temporalities, and affords an opportunity for one high profile and professional migrant ‘enclave’ (Ewers and Ricce, 2016) to be critically examined.

Using a qualitative research design, incorporating a case-study methodology, the research is situated in constructivist grounded theory. Twenty-six biographic narrative interpretative interviews (Wengraf, 2001) were conducted in August 2016. Preliminary findings include the emergence of ‘wafideens’ who exploit the concept of the ‘third gender’ judiciously (Stalker, 2014; Adler, 1987) and expand their agency to a level of empowerment. The emergence of a hybridised/ambivalent Irishness linked to high-skill, a strong work ethic and ‘charm’ coalescing in a distinct, place-based form of Irish migrant capital. Evidence also emerged of a ‘polite’ disengagement from Irish professional, social and cultural networks in favour of local networks which was deemed necessary in order to self-actualise in place.