Rumour and Myth in the Labour Camps of Qatar

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Anthropology Today


Sociology & Anthropology


The petroleum-rich states of the Arabian Peninsula comprise one of the principal transnational destinations for the global movement of labour. In the Gulf States, much of that labour force comes from South Asia. Legions of unskilled male labourers are typically housed in labor camps, a nomenclature that masks a wide variety of both formal and informal accommodation that, in spatial terms, is a fundamental mechanism for the social segregation of this foreign labor force from the citizenry. Building upon recent fieldwork in Doha, Qatar, this paper examines the myths and narratives that proliferate amongst the South Asian men in these labor camps – men who, often despite years of experience in the Gulf States, typically have little or no interaction with the native citizenry. This paper suggests that these myths and stories can be understood as instruments of governance in that they portray the collectively-established boundaries of appropriate behavior in a culture foreign to these unskilled laborers. A close analysis of the content of these myths and rumors, however, also helps us grapple with the connections and contradictions between power, race, class, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender and sexuality in the extraordinarily heterogeneous context of the contemporary Gulf State. As such, the analysis not only sheds light on the experiences of these foreign men and women, but also their collective understanding of that experience and of the society that hosts them.