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Locating Neoliberalism in Dubai: Migrant Workers and Class Struggle in the Autocratic City



Abstract:  In recent years, portrayals of neoliberalism in Dubai have often hinged on narratives about the hyper-exploitation of migrant workers in the city. In this paper I interrogate these narratives by exploring the governance of lower-waged construction migrants and their recent role in market-led processes of urbanization. Through a focus on the recent growth of private worker welfare initiatives and dozens of illegal labour strikes led by migrant builders, I draw attention to the fraught and contradictory character of autocratic neoliberalism that operates in the governance of these workers, and point to workers’ bodily capital and the construction labour camp as two emergent sites in which these labour politics are unfolding. I argue that these social reproductive realms of the body and the mass-worker household have offered a temporary spatial fix to the limitations of autocratic rule in a neoliberalizing city, while also conjuring moments of political possibility for construction migrants.