Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Between Oil Pasts and Utopian Dreams: Making State and Economy in Oman’s Citizen Labor Industry
With oil reserves dwindling, efforts to create a diversified, post-oil economy in Oman have focused on building the human capital of citizens and promoting a new entrepreneurial ‘work culture’ among Omani employees and entrepreneurs. In a context in which state-provided jobs represent both an exchange of labor for a salary and a means of securing a citizen’s rightful share of the nation’s oil revenues, issues of productivity and workforce development are most often framed in terms of the ‘mindset’ of individual citizens. Drawing on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork with experts and professionals in Oman’s thriving citizen labor industry—the industry of human resource specialists, consultants, career coaches, entrepreneurship trainers, and the organizations which support and sponsors them—this dissertation explores how utopian investments in Omani human capital have shaped the production of persons, the making of ‘an economy,’ and the distributive governance of the Omani state. In an environment in which economic ‘growth’ is driven by state-guided subsidy rather than market mechanisms, this dissertation describes how economic and managerial expertise is employed to create 'an economy’ in ways that are largely unaccompanied by the production of markets. By doing so, this dissertation highlights how seemingly neoliberal interventions aimed at ‘rolling back’ the state and cultivating entrepreneurial ‘mindsets’ have counterintuitively produced subjects who understand their personal and social ‘development’ as pieces of a larger system of distributive rights and obligations that is as much social and political as it is economic. Ultimately, by demonstrating how subsidy-driven investments in Oman’s citizen workforce reproduce distributive arrangements, this dissertation aims to complicate the assumption that ‘development’ is an antidote to Oman’s natural resource dependence.
Committee: Brian Silverstein (Chair); James Greenberg; Gökçe Günel; Mandana Limbert