Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dateline: Doha

A report from our man in Oman:

Hi everybody, this is Brendan Hammond. For those of you who don't know me, I'm an IPE student spending my spring semester studying abroad in the Sultanate of Oman. For our spring break over here, we have been taking an educational vacation around the Persian Gulf. I am currently writing you from Doha, Qatar.

Yesterday, on the other side of the world from Tacoma, we enjoyed a lecture from UPS Prof. Andrew Gardner - an anthropologist specializing in the Gulf States who works closely with the IPE department. Prof. Gardner is currently taking a two year research sabbatical, and is a visiting faculty member at Qatar University. His presentation was about the socioeconomic underclass of SE Asian laborers who comprise the base of certain gulf-state economies, in particular the Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain, where they outnumber national citizens.

Prof. Gardner argued that, for "the lowest rung on the ladder," structural problems such as inaccurate information, unequal legal status, predatory lending in India, and constraints to labor mobility for these workers once they are in the gulf may cause a net flow of money from families in India to the gulf economies - the opposite of what is supposed to happen. We had long been eager to learn more about SE Asian workers, and immensely enjoyed his lecture.

Following the presentation, a lively discussion ensued that not only included students and Prof. Gardner, but a couple gulf nation citizens. A particularly interesting point of discussion was Prof. Gardner's suggestion that solutions associated with liberalism - such as full labor mobility, equal legal status, information transparency, and the need for gulf nations to represent themselves well on the world state - might be useful in improving the situation.

Along with this, he acknowledged that recommending liberal solutions was an uncommon position for an anthropologist to take, and he pointed out the awkwardness inherent in such a stance when these structural problems emerged within an economically liberal system.

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