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City of Strangers: The Transnational Indian Community in Manama, Bahrain

by Gardner, Andrew M.

Abstract (Summary)
The social sciences’ interest in transnationalism has grown rapidly over the previous decade. The ethnographic case studies informing this burgeoning transnational literature, however, typically focus upon migration flows with one endpoint in the global North. This dissertation explores the experience of Indian transmigrants in contemporary Bahrain, one of the six petroleum-rich states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as the impact of these transnational flows upon the Bahraini state. Like all the nations of the GCC, foreign guestworkers comprise a majority of the workforce in Bahrain, and a near majority of the absolute population—two aspects of the many that mark the transnational context of the contemporary Gulf as significantly different from those typical of the transnational literature. The arc of my ethnographic analysis draws upon transnational theory, diaspora studies, and critical approaches to the state, and visits three plateaus. First, I use migration narratives gathered from Indian transmigrants to delineate the structure of dominance that shapes relations between guestworker and citizen-host. The parameters of this structure stretch from the global political economy to the apparatuses of the Bahraini state and, through the kafala sponsorship system, to the individual relations between citizen-sponsors and guestworkers. This structure comprises the basis for the systemic exploitation of foreign labor. Second, I analyze the strategies different classes of the Indian transmigrant community utilize against this structure of dominance. For the poorest transmigrants, these strategies are often limited to movement between legal and illegal status, while the diasporic elite employ a strategic transnationalism to combat the 12 vulnerabilities rendered by this system. Finally, I analyze the impact of these transnational flows upon the Bahraini state and citizenry. The structure of dominance, I argue, is essential to understanding the articulation of state-based power in Bahrain, for it provides a mechanism for citizens to cull profit from the private sector while maintaining a system for distributing state-controlled wealth that favors those well positioned in traditional social, familial, tribal relations. In essence, the Bahraini state comprises a form of resistance to the neoliberal logic of the global political economy—one that simultaneously structures inequities via those traditional fissures. 13
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School:The University of Arizona

School Location:USA - Arizona

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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