Over the last four days, I’ve been attending the Center for Gulf Studies‘ biannual symposium at the American University of Kuwait. The first symposium, held two years ago, convened around the theme of urbanization and urban form in the Gulf States. The second symposium (just concluded), centered on the concept of a knowledge-based development in the Gulf. The symposium included 26 papers and two roundtables, and altogether it was a fascinating and energetic meeting.
Most of the scholars who presented agree that the concept of knowledge-based development is a fuzzy one. In short, many of the Gulf States are pursuing the idea of a knowledge-based economy as an aspirational pathway through a post-hydrocarbon future. The concept is also the reason for the ongoing revisions of the educational systems and the presence of so many satellite campuses. The kernel of the idea of a knowledge-based economy is fairly radical as well: a purposive shift from economies based on the production of material goods to economies built around a truly renewable resource — human capital.
My paper (notably, a VERY rough draft) was entitled Gatekeepers, Imagineers, and the Development of Qatar’s Knowledge-Based Economy. In that paper, I contend that, in Qatar, the idea of a knowledge-based economy and society serves as the justification and lodestar for urban development in the present, that urban development is the keystone that holds together social relations in the rentier state, and that it underpins the unique demographic concoction of foreign workers and minority citizens we see in Qatar and elsewhere. Amidst that constellation of foreign communities, I discern and describe the role of gatekeepers, or cultural brokers of sorts, who leverage access to citizens and, ironically, imagine and purvey misconceptions about their values and norms. This draft of the paper is my first attempt to expand upon the ideas I briefly explored in Tokyo last September.
In addition to the excellent papers and a pair of interesting roundtable discussions, we also took a walking tour of Kuwait City led by three women from the organization called Madeenah. This organization is devoted to understanding and engaging the social and spatial history of the architecture and urban fabric of the city — mining a vein that is almost entirely unique in the Gulf States. The walking tour carried us to various aging modernist spaces in the city, as well as some of the abandoned interstitial spaces tucked between skyscrapers and shopping malls. It was a fascinating tour.
Now I’m sitting in airports on the long journey back home.