Bedouins into Bourgeois? Globalization, Transnational Networks of Expertise, and the Unintended Rise of Super-Entitled Citizens in the United Arab Emirates

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Nunn School Faculty Candidate Job Talk:  Calvert Jones, ABD Political Science, Yale University.  

Can state leaders create the citizens they want, successfully shaping the hearts and minds, and ultimately the culture, of their own citizens?  With a strategy of “soft” social engineering through Western-style education reform and other methods of socialization, state leaders in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are hoping to create what they see as a more enlightened and market-driven citizenry, motivated to achieve in the global knowledge economy, but still loyal to the country's authoritarian status quo.  Based on my findings, however, instead of building more entrepreneurial, less government-dependent citizens, top-down social engineering is enhancing a prior culture of entitlement and rentierism, cultivating Arab youth with heightened expectations of elite status, greater demands for state sponsorship, and little interest in private sector work.  To explain this outcome, I highlight the role of the Western-educated foreign experts whom the sheikhs have hired to design and implement social engineering on their behalf.  Embedded in transnational networks of expertise in education reform, student-centered pedagogy, and related areas, these actors serve as "middlemen" negotiating the space between ruler and citizen, where job security for them is very tenuous. I argue that resulting fears about job security within a domestic political context of rentier authoritarianism structure the calculations of middlemen, producing behaviors on their part that undermine macro-level strategy.  At the local level in schools subjected to Western-style reform, for instance, middlemen deliver undue praise, inflate grades, and flatter the culture, as they struggle to keep their positions and advance in the domestic hierarchy of foreign expertise.  Rarely, moreover, do they “speak truth to power” by telling the autocrats who hired them what they really think.  As a result, although wealth, political will, and expertise are abundant, macro-level strategy is failing, and perverse outcomes are occurring in citizen-formation.  To substantiate these arguments, I use a multi-method approach, including palace ethnography, a large n survey of UAE youth across treatment and control groups (n = 5,076), extensive interviews, focus groups, and an experiment with random assignment.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Debbie Mobley
  • Created: 02/05/2013
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016


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