E X C E P T I O N S & E X C E P T I O N A L I T Y I N D U B A I
In this book I argue that although Indians cannot become legal citizens of
Dubai, an Arab city-state on the Persian/Arabian Gulf, they are in many
ways its quintessential citizens.∞ Indian foreign residents’ everyday prac-
tices, performances, and narratives of existing within the city are integral
to understanding larger questions about the nature of governance, citizen-
ship, neoliberalism, and cultural identity in this small but globally impor-
tant place. In Dubai, as in all contemporary urban spaces, human ele-
ments, geographies, and institutions are co-constitutive, and forms of
belonging and citizenship take place at several scales beyond the juridico-
legal definition of ‘‘nationality.’’
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a mythology began to
develop around Dubai, driven by the emirate’s many exceptionalities: it
was a conservative monarchy with one of the most open markets in the
world; although located within the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of
the largest oil-producing countries, it had successfully diversified its econ-
omy away from oil reliance into tourism, real estate, and finance; and it
managed to balance seemingly divergent temporalities of traditional Bed-
ouin pasts and postmodern, futuristic cityscapes.≤ Newspaper articles,
television shows, and travel guides chronicled the meteoric rise of Dubai,
the rapidly shifting geography of the city, and the armies of exploited
workers—mostly from South Asia—that were constructing it. The eth-
nographic entry point for an academic interested in entanglements be-
tween South Asia and the Gulf seemed almost obvious at the beginning of
the century, as the South Asian presence in the Gulf was defined almost
entirely through accounts of human-rights violations and economic ex-
ploitation of the poorest strata of laboring classes, usually construction
workers or maids. However, my mythology of Dubai was not of this cen-
tury, nor was it rooted primarily in a story of capitalism and development.
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