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The case of Doha, Qatar: interview with Peggy Levitt

Peggy Levitt explains the strategy of Doha as an aspiring global city
So Qatar is also a really interesting case. And things have changed since I’ve been there. But when I was doing my field work for my book, anywhere between 12 and 16 museums were on the docket. And they were all part of a kind of master plan on the part of the government to use cultural institutions, hosting the 2022 World Cup, having Qatar Airways, having Al Jazeera in English, having the education city, which is a campus where eight or nine American and European universities have branch campuses. These are all strategies to say something to the outside world and also to say something to Qataris– Qataris citizens about their kind of place. So this is also a young country.
It’s gotten incredibly rich in a very short time. And these are strategies of nation building that say to the outside world– this is an important place. We are capable of taking our place at the world table but on our own terms. So we are going to take what we want from the West but disregard what doesn’t fit well with our culture. And then to Qatari citizens, it’s saying–
we are a part of an important nation. We have a heritage that we can be proud of. That heritage is differentiable from Bahrain and from the other countries that surround us. And so it’s a very interesting use of culture to sort of pick and choose what they want from cosmopolitanism but always against this backdrop of– you know, 12% of the people who live in Qatar are actually citizens, and then 88% are migrants– who are either the professionals, who are designing the skyscrapers, designing the museums, teaching at those universities– or the many, many construction workers and nannies and taxi drivers that are often working under deplorable conditions and with very few rights to build all these things and to do the dirty work of making this happen.
And so even what cosmopolitan citizenship and cosmopolitan nationalism means in this context is really a difficult question because so few people enjoy any kinds of rights or protections.

In this video, Peggy Levitt, from Wellesley College and Harvard University, describes the main pillars of Qatar’s master plan to create Arab cosmopolitan nationalists, with reference to her book ‘Artifacts and Allegiances’ published in 2015.

She explains the spectacular moves taken by the Qatari government, such as the construction of Education City concentrating numerous branches of American and European Universities, the organization of global sports events like the 2022 FIFA World Cup, or the establishment of world-class museums. She interprets these actions as a way to draw on Western culture while affirming a distinctive identity.

She also stresses the key role that migrants play in the implementation of these ambitious projects and points at various forms of inequality. She emphasizes the inequality of rights between nationals and migrants on one hand, but also tells about the inequality of treatment between high-skill professional labour migrants who work under very difficult conditions.

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