Based on research conducted while studying at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Batul Sadliwala critiques prevailing narratives surrounding migration to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially their reliance on analyses of exclusive citizenship policies and the kafala system. Her findings based on a case study of employee interactions at a Kuwaiti construction firm suggest that GCC residents relate to one another through “nonexploitative interactions in spaces that are far less exclusive than one would think.”
Featured August 15, 2018 in Migration Policy Institute, here is an excerpt from Connecting Across Nationalities: Inter-Ethnic Relationships in a Kuwaiti Workplace:
In mainstream narratives about migration to Kuwait and to the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) more broadly, tropes of a privileged citizenry and an exploited foreign-born workforce predominate. The media, academics, and human-rights organizations commonly paint GCC societies as using their oil wealth to buy legitimacy for ruling monarchies even as they get away with exploiting migrant workers.
The emphasis on exclusionary citizenship laws and discriminatory migration and labor policies is necessary. But this focus obscures the complex nature of residents’ everyday lives with regards to migration issues. Though interactions among and between citizens and migrants are commonly seen through a lens of exclusion and exploitation, observing microlevel interactions between these groups in a particular context, for example at a Kuwaiti construction company, paints a more nuanced picture.
This article critiques prevailing narratives surrounding migration to Kuwait, especially their important but overly simplistic reliance on analyses of exclusive citizenship policies and the kafala system governing migrant employment. It presents findings from a network analysis of interactions between different ethnic and socioeconomic groups at a small Kuwaiti construction firm, illustrating that, in ways that are more inclusive than exclusionary, migrants actively play social roles that shape their everyday experiences. At the company, individuals from diverse ethnic and class backgrounds, generally assumed to be locked into unequal power dynamics, relate to one another through nonexploitative interactions in spaces that are far less exclusive than one would think.
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