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Spectacular Urbanization amidst Variegated Geographies of Globalization: Learning from Abu Dhabi's Trajectory through the Lives of South Asian Men


  • Our informants were generous with their time and information — for no material reward. An earlier version of this article was presented at the Annual Conference of the Urban Geography Research Group of the RGS—IBG held at the Centre for Urban Theory, Swansea University, in November 2009, whose organizers and audience we thank for their comments. Later presentations, at the AAG meeting in Seattle and AAG political geography/sexuality and space preconference in Tacoma in April 2011, afforded further opportunities for useful feedback. We also wish to thank three IJURR reviewers for their helpful and encouraging comments on earlier drafts. In addition, David Bassens and Matt Sparke read an earlier draft and also generously offered suggestions and pointed to relevant literatures. We are grateful to Fiona Frebarche for her copy-editing and assistance tracking down demographic data. We, however, remain responsible for the interpretations and any errors here.

  • The maps were drawn by the Cartographic Resources Unit at the University of Plymouth, UK.

Robina Mohammad (, School of Applied Social Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Graham Hills Building, 50 Richmond Street, Glasgow G1 1XN, UK and James D. Sidaway (, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore, Kent Ridge, Singapore 117570.



The world city aspirations and spectacular urbanization of Gulf cities such as Abu Dhabi rest on the combination of petrodollars, connections and labour. Drawing on interviews with South Asian men working there, this article reports their lives and labour as a mirror to the development of Abu Dhabi. This requires and invites an investigation of spaces of social reproduction, raising broader theoretical and comparative issues about these in the context of Gulf cities and other sites of rapid urbanization and migration. Transnational categories and connections are thereby opened up in ways that have implications for the study of other cities.


Les aspirations à devenir ville mondiale et la spectaculaire urbanisation des grandes villes du Golfe, comme Abou Dhabi, s'appuient sur les atouts combinés que sont les pétrodollars, les capacités de connexion et la main-d'œuvre. À partir d'entretiens auprès de travailleurs venus d'Asie du Sud, cet article relate leur vie et leur travail en les rapprochant du développement d'Abou Dhabi. Cette démarche exige et suggère une étude des espaces de reproduction sociale, soulevant à leur propos des problèmes théoriques et comparatifs plus vastes, dans le cadre des villes du Golfe ou d'autres lieux d'urbanisation et de migration accélérées. Il en résulte des connexions et des catégories transnationales dont l'étude d'autres villes doit tenir compte.