Andrew, Labor Migrants, Qatar, and Justice


Screen-Shot-2014-12-09-at-20.01.08-220x300As my students know, I snuck off to Qatar for the last week of class. I’m on my way back for finals, and with a lengthy layover in Amsterdam, I thought I’d write a little bit about how things went.

So over the last two-plus years, I’ve been working on a research project with my colleagues Silvia Pessoa and Laura Harkness. We were asked by the Open Society Foundation to conduct a study of labor migrants’ experiences in the justice system in Qatar. We completed our report early in the Fall, and the report, entitled Labour Migrants and Access to Justice in Contemporary Qatar, was published days ago by the London School of EconomicsMiddle East Centre. I traveled to Qatar this week for the “report launch” event — a closed presentation to select ministry officials, scholar/researchers, policymakers, migrant activists, and a few select journalists. The event was hosted by Qatar University on December 9, 2014.

The presentation provided a brief overview of the project and report, with simultaneous translation for the audience. In short, over more than a year, we interviewed 25 labor migrants who, past or present, had active cases in the justice system provided to them by the Qatari state. Our analysis of those interviews and the experiences described therein, combined with another 24 interviews with judges, ministry officials, advocates, and community leaders, allowed us to make a series of policy recommendations to the involved ministries of the Qatari state.

Presentation at Qatar University

Presentation at Qatar University

For the launch event, that 30 minute presentation was followed by over an hour of sometimes heated discussion and comment, all of which was under “Chatham House rules” (which means no one can be quoted by name by the journalists present). Let me briefly describe why this conversation was so heated, as it was very interesting to me, and it speaks, I think, to the junction between academia and applied work focused on policymaking.

While there were a diversity of responses to the report, many of the comments and questions I fielded contended that the report didn’t go far enough with its indictment of the migration system and the governance of the Qatari state. Comments, mostly from academics, articulated a desire to address the “root problem” behind the injustices many migrants face. Others pondered the role of other stakeholders in this migration system: business owners, labor brokers, unconcerned government officials, oblivious citizens, and so forth. Many of the discussions that ensued reached for the deep ethical issues at stake in these migrants’ experiences. Interestingly, these various comments arrived from both the Qataris present and the foreign researchers/journalists/activists/consultants there as well.

Qatar University made this banner for the presentation!

Qatar University made this banner for the presentation!

I was fairly firm in my response to these topics and critique, however. While much of my previous work has been aligned or driven by these ideas, for this project our team had to put our blinders on. For this project, our concern was not with the underlying root problems, the causal forces at work, the ethical implications of this migration system, the other stakeholders involved, or with what an entirely new and better justice system might look like. Instead, in this report we stayed focused on what changes to the existing justice system in Qatar might improve its efficiency, help it better meet its own goals, and thereby improve its responsiveness to real migrants with real problems. The policy recommendations in the report reflect this: they are real, actionable changes that the Department of Labor Relations and the Labor Court can make, and while they may appear incremental, we assert that they will make a significant and discernible difference in the carriage of justice.

As an academic, anthropologist, and scholar, it felt odd to put those blinders on, and to consciously rebut comments and conversations pushing toward the larger issues at stake here. But in reflection, I think that’s part of the nature of applied work, and in retrospect, I feel more confident about our findings as a result of the event.

Regardless, you can read one journalist’s take on the event here.

And, of course, it was great to reconnect with my friends and colleagues at Qatar University!



Humanity in Action Fellowship

SOAN Students,

Humans taking a break from the action for a photo at the Humanity in Action program

Humans taking a break from the action for a photo at the Humanity in Action program

Here’s a fellowship you might consider for the coming summer. If you’re successful, you’d be traveling to Europe for the program. It looks great!

Here’s the information we received. Note that the deadline isn’t that far away (January 8, 2015). In fact, if you’re interested in applying, I’m told you should contact Sharon Chambers-Gordon at the Fellowships Office immediately! Here’s the information we received:

I am pleased to share that the application deadline for the 2015 Humanity in Action Fellowship is nearly one month away (January 8, 2015).

To support your outreach efforts in the remaining month, I have compiled some helpful information below, including links to the Humanity in action Fellowship presentation, promotional flyer, and 2015 essay questions.  

I am also making myself available to host online video info sessions with groups of students at your universities. These sessions are a terrific way for your students to learn more about the fellowship and to ask any questions they have. Please contact me if you are interested in this opportunity. 

Helpful Humanity in Action Links

Gareth Barkin continues SOAN Brownbag Series

There will be a second installment of the Sociology & Anthropology brownbag series tomorrow, as Dr.Gareth Barkin presents his research on mass media and midwifery in Indonesia. Again, the format will be 20 minutes for the talk, followed by another 20 minutes for questions and discussion. This will be the final brownbag of the semester, but we’re looking forward to organizing more in the spring of 2015!

When: 12pm, Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Where: McIntyre 107

SOAN (6)