As the 2022 World Cup in Qatar approaches, the international press is drawing renewed attention to the serious labor abuses that the migrants building the infrastructure for the games have experienced. This talk presents an overview of Natasha Iskander’s Does Skill Make Us Human? Migrant Workers in 21st Century Qatar and Beyond, which details the complex social and economic context that produces working conditions in Qatar. Based on unprecedented ethnographic research on construction sites in Doha, interviews in eight languages, and fieldwork in migrants’ countries of origin, the book explores how migrants are recruited, trained, and used. Despite their acquisition of advanced technical skills, workers are commonly described as unskilled and disparaged as “unproductive,” “poor quality,” or simply “bodies.” The labeling of workers as unskilled is at the root of the labor exploitation they endure. Skill distinctions in Qatar act as a marker of social difference powerful enough to adjudicate personhood, and to create hierarchies that shape all facets of work, labor recruitment, and migration policy. Skill categories even define industry responses to global warming, with employers recruiting migrants from climate-damaged places at lower wages and exposing these workers to Qatar’s extreme heat. While the political use of skill appears heightened in Qatar, it shares core features with the way that skill is deployed to define immigrant rights and migrant working conditions in economies throughout the world. Thus, Qatar and the 2022 World Cup challenge us to examine the factors that shape working conditions, justify the distribution of power, and amplify inequality everywhere.
- Center for Migration and Development
- Effron Center for the Study of America
- Princeton University Center for Human Values