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Policing Labour and Migration

Panel VI-23, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
  • Mustafa Bokesmati
    The 1940s marked the initiation of the oil drilling and export industries in the Arabian Gulf. This led to a high demand in labour which could not be filled by the population in the respective countries. Ultimately, the labour demand was fulfilled by migrant workers, many coming from the South Asian subcontinent and other neighbouring Arab countries. This paper shall expand on previous studies of connections between colonial labour conditions and their mechanisms of reproduction by the newly found states, specifically Kuwait. Moreover, it will attempt to draw out the relationship between the exponential growth of the energy systems around the extraction and production of oil, and the labour conditions of Kuwait. Examining the conditions of labour will also highlight any legal and social barriers faced by migrant workers to collective bargaining, protesting rights, consent to work, and incarceration. Hence, the main objective of this paper is to provide a historical analysis of labour conditions in Kuwait. In other words, this paper queries how legal, economic, and social conditions of colonial labour politics, were exacerbated by the high demand for cheap labour in the oil sector of the newly independent Kuwait as well as other Gulf states. The social, political, racial, and gendered identities in the labour market are central to this analysis. Thus, the paper argues that labour laws in Kuwait follow an exclusionary framework based on ad hoc and informal regulations. The regulations aim at "othering" of the migrant working. The labour migrant is stripped from any rights of permanent residency, or the opportunity for an eventual social and economic integration into Kuwaiti society. The value of the labour migrant is tied to their value of production in the Kuwaiti market. Ultimately, Labour policies in Kuwait diminish the political, economic, and social rights and identities of migrant workers.
  • The paper examines the history of labour governance and resistance in the Gulf. It argues that the contemporary governance, regulatory, and resistance environment for labour have clear lineages in the past. With an empirical focus on Omani labour history, this research shows how the practices of recruiting, framing, and segmenting labour alongside the experiences of working and resisting segmentation have profoundly shaped the growth and organisation of wage labour in Oman and the region. Using process tracing and contrapuntal reading as methods of analysis (Said 1993; Bilgin 2016; Chowdhry 2016; Bennet and Elman 2006), this paper takes a journey through multiple archival and interview sources to trace the lineages of differentiation and the lineages of resistance. Adopting a labour-centred approach, the paper first traverses three key legacies of governing work and workers – the colonial modes of circulating, disciplining, and classifying labour; the oil industry’s human resources recruitment and management practices with a focus on Shell in Oman; and the framing and management of labour in national economic development planning. Second, it traces discourses about workers and how these discourses and prejudices are persistent technologies of governance that influence practices and assessments of employment and development. Finally, it assembles these dynamics together and shows the ensuant contestation to and within them over time, including connections to antiimperialist movements and activism, and various manifestations of worker mobilisation and protest. The historical, labour-centred exercise contained in this paper reveals a genealogy of practice and discourse underpinned by racial capitalism that have shaped work life in Oman and the Gulf more widely.
  • Ottoman population studies has a long, venerated history. The field goes back at least as far as Ömer Lûtfi Barkan, a pioneer who made novel use of the imperial state archives. Research has greatly expanded since and now considers many forms of inter- and intra-imperial mobility—travel, pilgrimage, migration, nomadism, etc.—and draws upon a diverse source base. But important gaps persist, and work has tended to be heavily empirical and under-theorized. This paper seeks to enhance our understanding of Ottoman politics and demography by providing new findings on the practice of state-mandated population transfer (sürgün, sawq) in the 16th-century Arab lands—focusing on the experience of urban communities in Aleppo and, secondarily, Cairo. With the aid of narrative sources and state records in Arabic and Ottoman (e.g., biographical dictionaries and deportation orders), the paper will describe and analyze transfers undertaken by Sultan Selim (r. 1512-20) after his defeat of the Mamluk Sultanate and annexation of the Islamic heartlands. While one interpretive model suggests a shift in governing rationale took place at this time, moving from “resource colonization” in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to “punitive regulation” in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this study will argue that transfer practices remained flexible and strategic and that multiple policy goals could be pursued simultaneously. In Aleppo, for example, Selim issued orders that merchants be rounded up and sent to Trabzon, resident Persians be sent to Istanbul, and families guilty of concealing Mamluk Sultan al-Ghawri’s (r. 1501-16) treasure be sent to the capital as well—all in the space of one year! The sources even permit glimpses of the impact such policies had on individuals, and not just impersonal groups. One biographer, Ibn al-Hanbali (d. 1563), describes people being seized at night and door-to-door. My analysis will unpack the local conditions that set the stage for these transfers and affected their implementation. It will also draw in the geopolitical context (e.g., rivalry with the emergent Safavid state) and offer comparative examples (e.g., Cyprus). In Ottoman studies, research on forced resettlement, sedentarization, and the like has tended to focus on the empire’s early and late history and the regions of Anatolia and the Balkans. This paper aims to address this imbalance with new evidence and fresh synthesis, while also speaking to broader interest in “imperial mobilities” during the early modern era.