Panel examines racial capitalism and migration in Qatar

April 21, 2022
A recent panel at Northwestern University in Qatar examined racial capitalism and its effects on the lives and experiences of migrant workers from a transnational perspective.
The virtual panel, co-hosted by the NU-Q Working Group on Race and the Institute for Advanced Study in the Global South (#IAS_NUQ), featured Vani Saraswathi, editor-at-large and director of projects at; Zahra Babar, associate director of research at the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar; and Neha Vora, associate professor of anthropology at Lafayette University. Northwestern Qatar Professor Hasan Mahmud moderated the discussion.
Saraswathi, who has been living in Qatar since 1997, said the international media attention accompanying the World Cup brought to light practices and policies that, for a long time, have excluded the low-income migrant workers in the country and across the region. Despite this, she said, “the criticism has been too narrow and too simple in the case of Qatar, with the usual tropes of lack of democracy, not cultured enough, corruption, [and] is an Arab country ready to host an event of this magnitude.”
Drawing from her academic work, Babar explained how racialization and racial stereotypes contribute to the economic disempowerment and systematic exclusion of migrants in Qatar and across the Gulf. “Much is known, anecdotally and through ethnographic accounts, about how racial stereotypes define Gulf labor markets,” said Babar. “Migrants feel them and live them, and the effect of these stereotypes and tropes is clearly demarcated, not just in popular discourses and migrants’ lived experiences, but also in official job categories, visa statuses, and titles you are allowed to have in jobs.”
While media attention has focused on labor issues in Qatar as host of the World Cup, Vora pointed out that the scope of this conversation needs to include migration and labor issues in Europe and Western countries. “It is more important for us to see Qatar as a node in a transnational system of capital production that is built on deeply racialized inequalities,” said Vora. “Qatari businesses and multinational corporations around the world generate profit by using cheap migrant labor— labor that has been made deliberately cheap due to its racially undervalued economic designation.”
The panel—Racial capitalism, migrants’ rights, and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar—was co-hosted by #IAS_NUQ, an institute dedicated to producing and promoting evidence-based storytelling focused on the histories, cultures, societies, and media of the Global South.
Click here to watch the full panel discussion.