Power, Person, and Place: Tradition, Modernity, and Environment in the United Arab Emirates

Detta är en avhandling från Human Ecology Division, Finngatan 16, 223 62 Lund

Sammanfattning: The thesis investigates human-environmental relations in the rapidly modernizing United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven Arabian Gulf sheikhdoms. Since its establishment in 1971, the UAE has been transformed from a subsistence society based mainly on pastoralism and maritime activities (fishing, pearling, and trade) into an ultramodern society, with an economy based on the export of fossil fuels. This study examines certain aspects of these processes of change from a social constructionist perspective. The title -Power, Person, and Place - alludes to the three main themes of the investigation. The first theme (Pearls and Petroleum: The Power of Nature) investigates the Emirati economy, which has been based on the extraction of natural resources: pearls up to the 1930s, followed by petroleum in the 1960s. The economy is analyzed in terms of dependency and political power, and the notions of value, extractive economy and unequal exchange are discussed. Is there any objective foundation of value such as energy and matter? The analysis places Emirati society in a wider global and historical context, acknowledging that natural resources are fundamentally interconnected with social relations. The second theme (From Camels to Cadillacs: Nature as Person) examines people’s changing relationship to camels as an index of modernity. In the pastoral society, the camels were perceived as persons, and they played an essential role in the traditional lifestyle, folklore and religion. While the economic motivation for keeping camels has vanished for today’s settled Bedouins, camel races, accompanied by a new camel science, have been introduced. The new approach to the animals is understood in terms of an increasing objectification and distanciation. The final theme (The nature of Nature: Practice, Politics, and Place) is nature as an arena of identity and politics. An altered relationship to the environment, it is argued, introduces a modern reflexivity about nature as an abstract category distinct from the immediate lifeworld. The mental, social and material aspects of the modern construction of the Emirati nature are elaborated. The process of greening the emirates involves an emerging environmentalism here analyzed in terms of ideology and the glocal construction of place, i.e. involving both global as well as distinctively local elements.

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