If you’re a student of mine, you know that I spent the fall break in Qatar and Spain. Although most of my mid-semester time away was spent working with my collaborators on the two Qatar-focused projects I’m leading, I was invited to deliver a paper at workshop sponsored by the United Nations University (UNU) in Barcelona (in cooperation with the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona). That paper will eventually become part of a book to be published by the UNU. The workshop provided all of the contributors with an opportunity to present a draft of their work and, in a larger sense, to bring their chapters into cadence with one another. I thought I would tell you a little more about it.
My contribution to the volume is being prepared in collaboration with Zahra Babar (Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar). Over the past few years, she’s developed an expertise in the policy frameworks by which the Gulf States manage and govern the vast flows of foreign labor to the region. I know a little bit about this as well, but my strengths are ethnographic in nature, and largely concentrated around the experiences and perspectives of the migrants who arrive in the Gulf in search of opportunity. In Europe and North America, the idea of “circular migration” has a particular currency at the moment: policymakers and states are interested in finding ways to support the eventual return of migrants to their home countries. In our paper, Zahra and I are considering how the circular migration framework might or might not describe the sorts of migration patterns we see in the Gulf States. While our argument is evolving based on our conversation with the other scholars at the workshop, we remain somewhat concerned that this framework helps justify some of the more problematic aspects of the Gulf migrant’s experience on the Arabian Peninsula, and inevitably seems to guide our attention away from the failure of development in many of the countries from which these Gulf migrants come.
We’ll return to Barcelona for a second meeting in February — I’ll post another update then.