So I have a new publication to announce: a essay/book chapter entitled Cars and Car Culture in Contemporary Qatar.
As I’ve noted in numerous other posts to the SOAN blog, between 2008 and 2010 I taught in the Department of Social Sciences at Qatar University. I had many wonderful students there, and over those two years I supervised numerous research projects that incorporated those students’ fledgling ethnographic efforts. One overarching and exploratory theme focused on the permutations of consumer culture that are seemingly part-and-parcel of this small country’s extraordinary wealth and the state’s system for distributing portions of that wealth to its citizenry. Momina Zakzouk was one of my students in a course entitled Sustainable Development, and later that year I supervised her independent research project. In our small team’s larger exploration of Qatar’s consumer culture, Momina decided to focus on cars and the culture that surrounds them in Qatar.
Using semi-structured interviews and a bit of participant-observation (an impressive ethnographic feat for a young woman in somewhat gender-segregated Arabia), Momina used this project to explore this car culture. In crafting this essay, we followed numerous interesting threads in that data set, and incorporated some of my own ethnographic data as well. We discerned how cars mark social class and a citizenship-infused notion of belonging in Qatar: some cars mark you as a foreign resident, while others clearly indicate Qatari citizenship. We discuss how Toyota Landcruisers, seemingly at the symbolic apex of this car culture, are the lodestar by which almost all other vehicles are assessed. Car models and colors also have gendered implications, with the most common choices being black and white — not unlike the garments that Qatari men and women wear. And we explore how vehicles are central in the articulation of an alternative, bedouin-influenced identity that contrasted in many ways with the masculinities more broadly purveyed amongst the citizenry.
We’re both excited to announce our article’s publication. It’s a chapter in the new, third edition of Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East (Indiana University Press), a reader that’s widely used in university classrooms here and abroad. Momina is currently a master’s student at the University of Warwick, where’s she’s a sociology student in the Science, Media and Public Policy program. And we’re both grateful to the editors — Donna Lee Bowen, Evelyn A. Early, and Becky Schulthies — for all their help in getting this essay and book to publication.