It’s been a busy summer for me. After wrapping up the semester, I headed off to Qatar to touch base with the two research teams I’m working with over there. Both of our projects are entering their final year, and it seems like there’s just a million things that need to be addressed in order to get them across the finish line. That said, while I was there I had a chance to visit with my Al Shawi friends — my good friend Ali Al Shawi and his brothers hosted me at their house. We had a great feast, and I had the chance to meet some of his elderly uncles whose lives began in the remote deserts in what now seems like a different era. I visit Qatar so much that the sorts of days I have there seem normal, but when I step back and think about it, it’s so strange: sleeping in well appointed friends’ apartments high in the new skyscrapers, days interviewing men in the South Asian labor camps on the outskirts of town, and my evenings talking with Bedouin friends about camels, deserts, and tradition.
In addition to those two research projects, two of my colleagues — Silvia Pessoa and Laura Harkness — and I recently agreed to take on a small project for George Soros’s Open Society Foundation as part of their International Migration Initiative. More specifically, we’re conducting interviews with migrants about their experiences in the labor courts in Qatar, with the hopes of discerning patterns that would allow us to make practical recommendations about how to improve the responsiveness of the existing justice system there. That mini-project won’t conclude until next year, but already we’ve been hearing some very interesting things from the migrants we’ve spoken with, and we’re looking forward to pulling together our findings in the coming months.
I also have a couple of publications to announce. First, as I already announced earlier in the summer, Autumn Watts and I recently edited and published an eBook of migrant narratives produced by a small group of students we worked with in Qatar. The book — Constructing Qatar: Migrant Narratives from the Margins of the Global System — contains eighteen meticulously crafted stories our students penned after multiple interviews with labor migrants in Qatar. I’m really excited about this publication. While I’ve been collecting stories like this for years as the foundation of my ethnographic work, oftentimes those stories end up corralled in verbose academic papers that only a handful of people in the world care to read. In this book, we avoid scholarly analysis altogether, and aim merely to present the life stories of the transnational migrants who took the time to share their experiences with us. The stories are really quite poignant, and I’m proud of the students’ work.
I also had a chapter published this month in a new collection called Migrant Labour in the Persian Gulf (I. B. Tauris and Columbia University Press). This book is the first collection focused specifically on labor migration on the Arabian peninsula, and I’m extremely grateful to Georgetown’s Center for International and Regional Studies for pulling this project together. My chapter, entitled “Why Do They Keep Coming? Labor Migrants in the Gulf States,” has an interesting story behind it. Years ago, I was asked to give a presentation about my research here at the University of Puget Sound. In that presentation, I spent most of my time talking about the extraordinarily challenging and difficult circumstances many of the South Asian labor migrants face in Qatar and the other Gulf States. During the question and answer session, my colleague and friend Dr. Bruce Mann (from the Department of Economics) asked what I now think of as the “Bruce Mann question”: if things are so bad, then why do they keep coming? Since then, I’ve heard that question often, and this chapter is an attempt to answer it. To make a long story short: in part, they keep coming because they’re desperate, and in part, they keep coming because of a highly structured transnational system that really fosters misinformation and disinformation about the possibilities of work in the wealth states of the Arabian peninsula.
Additionally, my wife Kristin Giordano and I are working on a show that will go up in the library next month. Kristin is a photographer and artist, and during the two years we spent in Qatar, we collaborated on a couple different projects. The show is entitled Skyscrapers and Shadows: Labor and Migration in Doha, Qatar, and our goal was to build something compelling at the junction between art and the social sciences. I worked with friends in the labor camps to assemble a collection of migrant “material culture,” which will be accompanied by migrant portraits, interview transcripts, narratives, and a collage of photographs that were taken by our labor migrant friends. While I’ll post a separate announcement closer to the opening, here’s the key information: the show goes up August 17, 2012, and we’ve scheduled an opening for Wednesday, September 12 at 6:00 PM.
Outside of work, we’ve been camping here and there in Washington. We spent a few days on Lopez Island, and we’re excited about fishing season underway. I’m also filming a movie with my daughter, Astrid, and two of her friends. We’re excited about that. The movie — Galactic Troll Invasion — is about two girls and a boy who successfully defend the earth from an invasion of mind-controlling trolls. What more could you want from a movie than that?