Doctoral Dissertation Research (Smith): Dubai, Landscape and the Production of Attractive Markets

Grants and Contracts Details


This project analyzes how landscape is used to create "attractive" markets through a case study of the United Arab Emirate of Dubai. Dubai is currently undergoing landscape transformations which are staggering in their proportions, with projects including, but not limited to: four artificial islands, plans for the world's largest mall and tallest sky scraper, as well as an Internet City, Health Care City, Media City and International Financial Center. Through these projects, the ruling AIMaktoum family hopes to cement Dubai's position as the commercial and trading hub for the "greater" Middle East. Analyzing how and for whom the landscape is put to work in Dubai will address how (even in regional economic development) landscape is much more than the ground on which buildings are constructed - rather, it is an important tool used to create a "good business climate" and translate between the needs of differentially positioned economic actors. Two broad areas of research frame this project and its expected contributions: l) critical cultural landscape studies and 2) economic geographies of competition in the neo-liberal market economy. Because of Dubai's location in the Middle East (a region which is often portrayed as globalization's cultural and economic Other), a case study of the emirate will make especially clear the connection between the cultural work of which landscape is capable and the ability of a territory to be seen as a worthy investment in an age of uneven globalization. The research plan is designed to answer three questions about how landscape works in Dubai. First, it will examine how landscape is used to produce an attractive quality of life at and away from work for the city's diverse population. It will do so by documenting how the landscape is consumed by utilizing a combination of participant observation at four sites that represent contrasting facets of Dubai's economy and a "landscape use" qualitative diary project administered to 24 individuals with diverse positions in Dubai's economic hierarchy. Second, the research will analyze how landscape builds trust in, and enhances the status of, Dubai among potential investor firms by conducting semi-structured interviews with the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) and managers at firms that have recently located in Dubai. Third, it will address how Dubai uses landscape to strategically negotiate its position via both discourses of globalization and Middle Eastern "exceptionality" through the above mentioned semi-structured interviews, as well as through analysis of the archives of the DTCM, planning documents, and regionally-focused business libraries. The dissertation will make three primary intellectual contributions: firstly, it will strengthen both (a) the literature on cultural landscapes - by wielding the categories of analysis honed in economic geography - and (b) the "new" economic geography, by a relentless focus on the undertheorized material and ideological ground through which economic activity takes place. Secondly, it will bring both the geographic literature on landscape, as well as that of urban governance, to bear on an understudied non-Western context. Thirdly, it will examine how the Middle East is produced as the global economy's Other through on-the-ground research on the economic landscape. Beyond these intellectual contributions, this research will have broader significance, given how central the Persian Gulf has become to contemporary debates about what is right and wrong with the world. The Persian Gulf monarchies are woefully understudied, especially in geography and even within Middle Eastern Studies, which only allows many of the stereotypical representations of the region's people as blindly guided by an extremist culture (despite their great material wealth) to remain unchallenged. Though Dubai is not a utopia, it does demonstrate the diversity of the Arab and Muslim worlds, and the importance of that diversity to economies and cultures of globalization _ a point the co-PI will make through a commitment t ~ .r~achi~g. the p ~ b ~ c o~ ~heir ter~s, by speaking before government and civic groups, as well as utilizmg hiS Journalistic train1ng to wnte for the popular, in addition to the academic, press.
Effective start/end date9/1/052/28/07


  • National Science Foundation: $11,865.00


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