The Amalgamated City: Petroleum Wealth and Urban Space in Doha, Qatar

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

Winter 12-4-2012

Conference or Event

Boom Cities: Urban Development in the Arabian Peninsula


Sociology & Anthropology


Amidst a global financial crisis, Qatar remains ascendant. Much of the state’s petroleum wealth has been devoted to Doha, the single significant urban agglomeration on the small peninsula. Like neighboring cities in the Gulf, Doha fits poorly in the theoretical lexicon produced by earlier analyses of the Middle Eastern cities. In this paper, I draw on two years of fieldwork in Doha in delineating a theory of the Gulf city. I pursue two analytic paths. First, the city serves as the nation’s trophy case. As a conglomeration of symbols, Doha becomes a key junction around which Qatari nationalism congeals. Second, I examine the political economy of urban development. The distribution of land functions as one of the principal mechanisms for transferring state wealth to the citizenry. Together, both processes configure urban space as an amalgamation of discrete zones and a patchwork sovereignty that strategically preserves traditional relations amidst neoliberal flows.


This paper was presented at the conference Boom Cities: Urban Development in the Arabian Peninsula, held at New York University Abu Dhabi, December 4, 2012. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Philadelphia, PA. December 5, 2009.

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