Professor Robin Jacobson and I are planning a new course for the Spring of 2019. The tentative title for the course is Migrants and the Global City, and while much of the course will happen on campus, it also includes trips to both Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Doha, Qatar. We intend to hold an interest meeting for students in February, so please look for our forthcoming announcement. But in the meantime, Robin and I have just finished scouting the possibilities for students in Qatar. While this is all still fresh in my mind (I’m on the plane home now), let me provide a glimpse of some of the activities we have in mind.
Architecture, urban space, and urban planning are a fascinating topic of study in Qatar. We’ll visit the ultra modern West Bay with a diverse set of glowing high rises ringed by the water. In contrast, we’ll stay in Souq Waqif, a revitalized Middle Eastern bazaar in the historic center of the city. It’s an impressive and bustling public space, worthy of attention itself, but walk a few blocks and more contrasts await. Robin and I wandered from the glittering streets of the Souq, scrubbed by migrants on hands and knees every morning, to the broken, trash-filled sidewalks of the nearby neighborhood where such workers might live. As Qatari citizens suburbanized in decades past, the core of the old city was abandoned to the legions of low wage foreign workers who make up a majority of the current population. In Qatar, migrants make up almost 90% of the total population, and while
they work everywhere, many of them reside offstage from the impressive city. In the Industrial Area, on the fringes of the city, labor camps fill the horizons, and on their day off, migrants from around the Indian Ocean gather to shop, eat, and socialize. Robin and I met with some old friends of mine and they drove us to a labor camp and the market area that workers frequent on their single day off in their work week. We hope to arrange a lunch where each student gets to meet a transnational labor migrant and learn a little bit more about their lives and experiences, and to see some of the Industrial Area. Migrants are everywhere you look, and they make use of the city in their own ways. Students will be able to experience and explore the energy they bring to the urban landscape, and the diversity that makes up this small Gulf State.
Students will also get to talk with others who live, work, and study in Qatar. We had the pleasure to meet with scholars and those working for the government in various capacities. Students will get to connect with their peers at one of the many universities in the city, officials at the Ministry of Urban Planning, and Museum curators. In museums, the state oftentimes presents and codifies its national narrative — the stories nations tell themselves about themselves. In the Msheireb Museums, we encountered the stories Qatar has to tell about slavery, abolished in 1952, and about the transition from an economy based on pearls to one based on oil. We want our students to engage and explore those narratives, and to assess how the nation thinks about the integration of migrants into the stories it tells about itself.
If you’ve never been to the Middle East, this trip is going to reshape the way you think about the region. You’ll be safer than you are in America, and you’ll have an opportunity to engage with a sort of diversity that makes America look provincial. And Doha’s only half of our plan, as we’re also going to be traveling to Amsterdam!
If this might be of interest to you, look for our forthcoming announcement for a February student interest meeting.