Does Skill Make Us Human? Migrant Workers in 21st Century Qatar and Beyond

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Join the Department of Social Sciences for this Great Problems, Great Minds seminar series event featuring guest speaker Natasha Iskander, an associate professor of urban planning and public policy at New York University's Wagner School of Public Policy.

In 2010, Qatar won the hosting rights for the 2022 FIFA World Cup for soccer. The Qatari government began channeling hundreds of billions of dollars of state revenue toward reinventing itself as a global destination for sports and culture. It commissioned state-of-the-art stadiums, tourism facilities, and infrastructure for the games, and recruited hundreds of thousands of men—mainly from South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa—to build the structures. This talk considers the political use of skill categories – specifically the categories of skilled and unskilled – to control its migrant labor force. Even more than the country’s kafala system, which has received significant international condemnation in the lead up to the World Cup, Qatar has relied on skill categories to limit the political rights of migrant workers and to regulate their movement. The definitions of skill in Qatar draw on a long lineage of imperial exchange and hydrocarbon extraction, but Qatar has projected them into the future through the design of its cities and its ambitions for national development.

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