Ethics of Activity: South Asian Shia Working Life in Dubai
Tilley, Brian Robbins
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This dissertation explains how environmental conditions foster ethics of behavior common to various spheres of life-activity: leisure, work, and religious practice, for instance. The research conceives present-day Dubai—the site of research—as a work environment (populated 90% by working expatriates). The city’s particular orientation to labor is an aspect of its immersion in regional and global flows: economic and natural. Dubai has grown a) as a trade entrepôt and a node in global supply chains, and b) by producing manufactured landscapes that overcome harsh environmental conditions. To evaluate the phenomenon of natural-material and environmental forces that foster ethics common to various life activities, the research follows members of Dubai’s Shia Muslim community of Indo-Pakistani heritage, as they move through various sites of daily activity. In doing so, the data note how dispositions of members transcend across experiences. Constrained in Dubai, but globally connected through kinship ties and sectarian identity, members transform the experience of religious practice and downtime activities with qualities particular to worklife. Despite a variety of limitations on activity in Dubai that members characterize as majbūrī (compulsion), particular experiences of work and qualities of the environment magnify ethics of both excess and efficiency germane to Shia practice. The constructed environment also helps manifest a range of aspirations and anxieties that are expressed in leisure-time activities. Urban architectures here are both projections of desire and objects of concealment—obscuring feared realities—especially for those employed in construction firms or who provide construction-related services. These are thus forms of imagination attuned to ethics of the often-precarious pursuit of work. Finally, the research sees “constraint” as an ethic of migrant living and space management in Dubai, which fosters a form of “disciplined creativity” in religious expression and poetic performance, in the space of audio recording studios. The dissertation committee members were Anand Pandian (primary advisor), Veena Das, Steven Caton, Erica Schoenberger, and Ryan Calder.