Jun
30

Critical Development Studies: An Introduction

I try to keep an eye out for useful teaching materials, particularly ones that provide unique perspectives on issues that students may not have encountered in their studies (unfortunately many courses are similar ideas/voice on repeat, in various forms). "Critical Development Studies: In Introduction" (2018) by Veltmeyer and Wise is brief (170 pages), easy to read (lots of lists), and accessible (first year undergrad level). While not a "sharp edge" of critical studies per se, it provides a counter narrative to the dominant discourses. The unique offering is (largely) a vantage point from Latin America.

A couple of quotes for insight into the book:

"There are three fundamentally different ways of understanding 'society': as a collection of individuals, each motivated to better themselves or to seek self-advantage; as a system of institutionalised practices that sets rules and limits to the action of individuals; and as a system of overlapping and interconnected social groups with shared experiences and identify which enable them to act collectively in the struggle for social change. The first way of understanding society is widely shared by economists and political scientists in the liberal tradition. For the sake of analysis they see the individuals as rational calculators of self-interest, or as citizens who are equal in their opportunities for self-advancement, and as the fundamental agents of social change. The second and third ways of understanding society and the development process relate to what could be described as the 'sociological perspective'—the view that the problems, experiences and actions both of individuals and nations can and must be related to the potion that they occupy in the broader system, and understood in terms of the way society or the economy is organised and structured." (p. 54)

"From a critical development perspective (that is to say, one that questions neoliberal institutionality and the structural dynamics of capitalism in order to promote development alternatives that benefit the majority of the population), sustainable human development is understood as a social construction process that starts by creating awareness: the need for change, organization and social participation in order to generate a popular power that can then strive for social emancipation. This involves the eschewal of socially alienating relations that deprive people of their merits, destroy the environment, and damage social coexistence." (p. 118) 

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Jan
13

Qatar's Modern and Contemporary Development

One of the benefits of being in Qatar, when reading books written on the country, is the ability to walk the shelves of the Qatar National Library and stumble upon gems that almost certainly would not be available outside of Qatar. One example of this is "Qatar's Modern and Contemporary Development: Chapters of Political, Social and Economic Development", published in 2015, in Doha, Qatar. This book was written by Prof Ahmed Zakariya Al-Shelek, Prof Mustafa Oqail Mahmoud, and Dr. Yusuf Ibrahim Al- Abdulla (I believe it was originally written in Arabic but I do not have the date of that publication).

While other histories offer details of events in relation to external and colonial actions, the strength of this book is the extensive reference to local developments (e.g. related to the changes in the governance system, the consideration of a regional union when approaching independence, relations with other intergovernmental organizations like the Arab League and the UN, etc). In many ways this is much more of a history of Qatar, as opposed to other histories which situate Qatar as subject to the actions of others and their history. Entire chapters take this local focus. For example, Chapter 5 covers the Beginnings of the Modern State and is a valuable reference as it lists the emergence of various government offices, laws (e.g. nationality laws), Islamic courts, and so forth. Chapter 7 covers the political history of oil, putting it in local and international context, and Chapter 8 analyzes some of the socio-cultural impacts of oil. These histories are not included in most texts, and makes this a particularly valuable contribution.

Although not a strong focus, relatively more attention is paid in this book to the history before the colonial period as well as the role of Islam (the latter is made invisible in many works on the country). When the colonial era is covered, readers learn more of the Ottoman role in the 1800s, in comparison to other histories that emphasize that of the British. Also unlike almost all books on the country (including those published by academic presses) this book uniquely has a chapter on methods and sources, which is appreciated. This methods chapter outlines the inclusion of Arabic sources, Turkish sources, colonial sources, amongst others (including Russian sources). For this interested in the history of Qatar, this is worthwhile read.

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Oct
28

Founder of Qatar

In searching for alternative voices telling the history of Qatar, I found a copy of "Sheikh Jassim al-Thani: Founder of Qatar - A Historical Study of a Nineteenth Century Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula" (2015). The book was written in Arabic by Dr Omar al-Ejli, then translated into English by Abdul Salam Idrisi. The book uniquely draws on Arabic and Turkish sources (the author made three trips to seek data from the Ottoman archives, and attests to the vast amounts of material there, which most historians do not consider). Unfortunately most of these sources are not listed in the text, making it unclear where the author obtain what information (references are listed at the end, as are footnotes, the latter are largely additional explanation not source notes as might be typical for an academic historical work). Also useful is the provision of multiple perspectives on issues from Arabic sources, which are also lacking in most histories of Qatar. Unfortunately the English translation does not include the poetry of Jassim al-Thani and some of the photos (referred to in the text) are not included.

This book begins with a focus on Jassim al-Thani, his personal character, but spends the bulk of its content on the events surrounding his time. Different from the books penned by western authors on the history of Qatar, al-Ejli highlights the role of Islam - on a personal level of Jassim al-Thani, as well as a unifier of people. Religion is also employed to explain events, providing an alternative viewpoint / worldview of history in comparison to secular accounts. The author also refers to Arabic historians and social scientists, such as ibn Khaldun, to explain historical events - this too providing a unique theoretical foundation for approaching history. In many regards, this provides an alternative reading of history (compared to the dominant narratives that draw, almost exclusively, on the British colonial archive and therefore convey the colonial gaze to what is important, how issues are analyzed, and what gets erased or untold).

Despite some limitations, this is an interesting read to include for those interested in the history of Qatar. If nothing else, this book is a great starting point for new sources and an answer for anyone who suggests the British colonial archive is all that there is to work with when studying the history of Qatar. 

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Sep
21

Contemporary Qatar

Edited books are challenging to summarize, this post surveys some of the chapters and key points that stood out to me in this new collection, Contemporary Qatar (2021), edited by Zweiri and Al Qawasmi.

Ch 1 outlines the challenges experienced by the new state, often driven by external actors but which slowed the process of state building, which included the oil embargo (1973/4), oil crisis (1979), Iranian revolution (1979), Egypt-Israel peace treaty (1979), Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), GCC (1981), invasion of Kuwait, Gulf War (1990/1), Soviet collapse (1991), Jordan-Israel peace treaty (1994), failed coup (1996). The resources that Qatar holds today, largely LNG, were not a certain investment in the 1990s, when prices were low, but paid off in the long run. LNG development began in 1991, with the first export in 1997, the economic benefits of this enabled economic diversification in the 2000s, and beyond. The authors also note the niche areas of diplomacy that develop: (1) peace diplomacy / conflict resolution in Yemen, Sudan, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Eritrea; (2) higher education, with Education City, (3) Media  with Al Jazeera Media Network from 1996, and (4) Sport via 2008 Asian Games, 2011 Pan Arab Games, to FIFA and beyond.

Ch 2 is historical, and there are several book length efforts on this. I'll leave the summary as I have done that for the other books. Ch 3 on governance highlights unique directions of Qatar for the region, and what consequences this had - namely supporting a generation of young leaders and expanding freedoms, which created some tensions in the region with other nations whose leaders did not share this vision. Ch 4 covers political participation - there is much said about the 2021 elections, but municipal elections have been on-going since 1999; the author shows a relatively low voter registration, variable voter turn out, and declining candidates. This chapter is quite quantitative. There appears to be a need to delve into the qualitative aspects of why.

Ch 5 covers foreign policy (also covered by Kamrava, I'll avoid repetition here). Ch 6 explores the peace diplomacy, drawing on first hand experiences, and outlines the cases of Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan, Djibouti, Palestine, and Afghanistan. Some unique contributions in this chapter for those interested. Ch 7 offers a detailed case study on foreign relations with Palestine while Ch 8 outlines the expansion of military capacity and capability following the 2017 blockade of Qatar. Ch 9 broadens the conversation on sport in Qatar, moving beyond its international and tourism purposes, but also its cultural and bottom-up social drivers. Ch 10 re-orients the rentier framing of Qatar to one in the political realm, as a developmental state; this seems a useful re-conceptualization, as far too often broad generalizations are made of groups of states, which may not hold. Ch 11 covers the geopolitical of gas, specifically in relation to the US shale gas market and Qatar's LNG. 

Ch 12 is one of the few in this collection that address domestic social issues, it focusing on national identity. The drivers resonate with many other chapters (economic, education, big projects, blockade), what is unique about this chapter is that the author presents recommendations on how the emerging national identity issues could be address, which include: (1) cultural criteria for immigrants (in a country where the majority are not citizens); (2) a labour market shift that focuses upon the longer term / multi-generational migrants who are 'local' as opposed to revolving shifts of foreign workers; (3) strengthen public schools via state investment and training with an aim to increase their appeal and phase out coupon system currently in place for private schools; (4) ensure the urban housing policy facilitates residential structures that are intentionally mixed, slowly addressing the legacy of some families living in particular areas to enable greater interaction and solidarity across society. Ch 13 addresses the memory of the blockade, and makes an interesting case about the rise of nationalist sentiment before the blockade that enabled the government to take a bold stance, which thereafter increased nationalist sentiments. Ch 14 covers women in the workforce, with Qatar being positioned as having a low female work force participation and lacking a 'female friendly' work environment. However, the chapter would have been enhanced with regional and international comparisons - Qatar has relatively high female labour force participation (similar to Germany and the UK) and has a rate nearly triple that of other regional countries (e.g. Saudi, Egypt, Iran). The interesting question seems to be the converse - what enabled Qatar to be so different (while acknowledging that further progress could yet be made on enable greater labour participation). 

This is an excellent collection of works for those interested in Qatar. A limitation is that a lot focuses on the political and economic realms (domestic and international) and less on the social issues (other than national identity and female labour participation). Nonetheless, for those interested in the subject areas covered, this is an important contribution. 

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