Teach for Arabia
American Universities, Liberalism, and Transnational Qatar
Neha Vora


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Mythologies of Liberalism
chapter abstract

The introduction presents academic understandings of liberalism, illiberalism, and the Middle East, and how these inform the sense of contemporary crisis around the future of American academia, especially as it globalizes. Critiques by US-based scholars of internationalization projects reproduce certain mythologies about liberalism, namely that it is universal, positive, and ahistorical. Nostalgia for a time when the university was less entangled with projects of capitalism and empire pervades many of these narratives, and in the process centers a disembodied, unmarked subject whose belonging within the academy is natural and unquestioned. The introduction also interrogates contemporary academic understandings of illiberal places and the cultures, people, and forms of power that are presumed to map onto them. It highlights how ideas about the Gulf region were produced through British social science and colonial practices of proxy governance, as well as through American oil imperialism and the proliferation of Western expertise.

1 Unlearning Knowledge Economy
chapter abstract

Knowledge economy has become a buzzword in Qatar, used to discuss almost every new development project. This chapter highlights how this concept and the narratives associated with it function as forms of received knowledge about Qatar and the Gulf in much academic knowledge production, institutional rhetoric, and everyday conversation, both inside and outside the region. This terminology, like other exceptionalizing vocabulary about the Gulf, forecloses nuanced research and instead invites knowledge production that reproduces statist interests and the products of previous and ongoing imperial entanglements. The chapter argues that the rhetorics of knowledge economy and the actual effects of national development projects in Qatar are quite divergent, and offers a methodological intervention into the vocabularies of seeing and knowing higher education, national development, and forms of belonging in Qatar and the Gulf.

2 Pedagogies of Essentialism
chapter abstract

This ethnographic chapter shows how the contradictions between university mission and liberal celebrations of multiculturalism produced essentialized ideas about Qatariness, which led to segregation between Qatari and non-Qatari students. Faculty and administrators at branch campuses implemented nativist policies and privileged Qataris as the intended beneficiaries of liberal education, despite ever-present celebrations of diversity and multiculturalism. The misinterpretation of nation building as being for nationals only, along with reductive understandings of Qatariness, naturalized Qatari privilege within campuses, while Qataris themselves ended up feeling marginalized. Meanwhile, students were encouraged to interact with each other through essentialized understandings of difference, which reproduced existing social hierarchies instead of creating more inclusive campus climates.

3 Mixed Meanings
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on how the category of "Qatari woman" and the parameters of proper national femininity were produced within Education City's coeducational spaces. The Qatari state considered women's education and employment within mixed workplaces essential to modernization, to transitioning to a knowledge-based economy, and to achieving greater Qatarization. Yet, gender integration was also considered a threat to women's bodily purity, reputation, and to the gender roles and norms attached to Qatar's emergent national identity. The overt and covert ways coeducational anxiety permeated Education City played out on the bodies and actions of Qatari women in particular, both as a group to be protected from criticism, and as the source of gender threat itself. Tasked with playing a critical role in Qatar's modernization, but also expected to represent a timeless national culture, young Qatari women constantly negotiated competing expectations and parameters of what constituted proper femininity.

4 Local Expats
chapter abstract

This chapter pays particular attention to how local expatriate students—those who were raised in Qatar but had no access to citizenship—navigated what appeared to be a disjunction between Qatarization, a policy that structurally favored citizens, and a university system charged with actively promoting cosmopolitan global citizenship based on beliefs in individualism and meritocracy. Understanding contradictions built into their branch campus experiences actually prompted students to criticize the American academy, which, in their view, failed to live up to its egalitarian promise, rather than Qatar and its legal restrictions on foreign residents. Thus students understood that global citizenship, meritocracy, and egalitarianism, as constituted in the United Statees, were inherently unequal and did not become less equal or more flawed when they moved to a supposedly non-liberal space like Qatar. Branch campuses were increasing their belonging to Qatar and cementing its transnational future.

5 Expat/Expert Camps
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on the daily lives of faculty and staff in Education City, recruited mostly from North America and predominantly white. Most of these expatriates, like their counterparts in other sectors, spend their days shuttling between various compounds: those of the companies where they work, the shopping malls and hotels where they spend their leisure time, and the gated housing communities and high-rise buildings where they live. Their nationalities in many ways define their mobility and opportunities in the country, as do their Western professional accreditations, their English-language skills and—to a large extent—their whiteness. The concept of the "expert/expat camp" highlights how these subjects are both laborers who are segregated into compounds and a privileged elite who can enjoy the pleasures of raced and classed segregation while disavowing their ability to do anything about structural inequalities within an illiberal, repressive state.

Conclusion: Anthropology and the Educational Encounter
chapter abstract

The conclusion explores in particular the creation of Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), which encompasses all of the institutions within Education City. Education City's ongoing and uneven transition into HBKU coincided with shifts in Qatar Foundation's rhetoric away from global education toward local heritage and social formations. The author tracks her experiences of moving between spaces that increasingly embodied different epistemologies, gender norms, and social expectations in order to highlight how, rather than producing a more fractured landscape of higher education, these changes were quite ordinary reflections of how institutions incorporate political contestations and calls for greater representation. The conclusion's title also speaks directly to anthropology, and to Talal Asad's important volume urging a decolonization of the discipline—it is perhaps time for anthropologists to also take more ownership over how their concepts and categories of difference are problematically deployed across contemporary iterations of liberal education.