Western Privilege
Work, Intimacy, and Postcolonial Hierarchies in Dubai
Amélie Le Renard


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Introduction
chapter abstract

The introduction explains why it is important to study Westerners' structural advantages and distinctive subjectivities both on the job market and in intimate life, and to interview both white and non-white Western passport holders. It details what fields of scholarly work have inspired these choices: race and migration studies, postcolonial approaches of the Arabian Peninsula, postcolonial and transnational feminism, masculinity and whiteness studies, and intersectional studies of work and organizations. Following on with these works, the book examines how interlocked dimensions of social hierarchy - race, class, gender, sexuality and nationality - in the professional world as well as in intimate relations participate in producing Westerners as a privileged social group, but also differentiated subjectivities and relations to the city among them. The last section of the introduction discusses fieldwork and its difficulties.

1 The Construction of Skills
chapter abstract

British hegemony, white privilege, and the racialization of nationalities take root in the colonial history of the Emirates. However, the recent policy aiming to attract Western passport holders has its own logics. In the last decades, the government of the city, as well as its private and semi-public organizations, has produced branding efforts to present Dubai as a business hub and to attract "skills." The racialized definition of skills, skilled work and skilled workers participates in the construction of white and Western privilege. At the same time, Westerners are considered as "temporary workers." The chapter explores this ambivalence of status and highlights the differentiated conditions of migration among the Western passport holders: some are more privileged than others.

2 Structural Advantages in the Job Market
chapter abstract

Organizations (re)produce Western privilege through the structural advantages that Western passport holders benefit from, compared to non-Western passport holders: better salaries, packages, careers, and positions. Western interviewees often denounced the discrimination between nationalities while benefitting from it, and, for some of them, reproducing it as recruiters. While all Western passport holders are structurally advantaged, the best positions and packages go to white heterosexual married men, which contributes to producing race, gender, and sexuality hierarchies among Westerners. Some Western passport holders identify with the positive stereotypes attributed to their nationalities that legitimize their privileged positions; others, especially binational residents who grew up in the region, tend to develop an instrumental use of their Western nationality, without identifying with the stereotypes attached to it, and to delegitimize Western privilege.

3 Performing Stereotypical Westernness
chapter abstract

This chapter analyzes the gendered and racialized image of professional Westernness that is valued on the job market, and the emotional and bodily work that Western passport holders, especially those socialized in European and North American societies, undertake to perform it. It reveals the importance ascribed to displays of wealth and to the absence of any sign evoking the practice of Islam. A particular pressure weighs on people of color to conform to these norms. Women are encouraged to perform a stereotypically Western professional femininity that is (hetero)sexualized.

4 The Heteronormativity of "Guest Families"
chapter abstract

Migration policies of the government and corporations produce the figure of the "guest family" in contrast to that of the "temporary worker." While low-paid workers, most often considered as "single" residents, experience important constraints on their intimate relations in Dubai, Western couples are encouraged to adopt specific models of family life. Living in Dubai reinforces the labor division and role differentiation between spouses, while also engendering a change in their lifestyle, including more and more practices coded as upper-class. Despite an accentuated asymmetry between spouses, most married couples identify with a gender equality whose outward sign is the public performance of hetero-conjugality, which distinguishes them from other segments of the upper class seen as sexist. These couples also distance themselves from younger single Western residents, especially nonwhites, who are seen as non-Western.

5 Relations with Domestic Employees
chapter abstract

Western couples, especially those with young children, often employ live-in domestic workers. This chapter analyzes how the moral discourses about employing domestic workers participate in the construction of distinctive Western subjectivities. Most employers described having a live-in employee as something non-modern, and sometimes compared it to slavery. In this way, they distanced themselves from so-called Emirati, local, or Arab employers deemed abusive. While they were also employers themselves, they argued that they had no influence on societies supposedly at an earlier stage than their own, and that they made it possible for domestic workers to escape abusive employers. Their egalitarian discourse placed particular demands on domestic workers, who were expected to hide the asymmetry of the relationship as much as possible.

6 Hedonistic Lifestyles
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on "single" residents, younger and with diverse class and race backgrounds. Most of them frequented Dubai's bars and nightclubs but developed an ambivalent attitude to doing that. They praised Dubai's nightlife for being both luxurious and accessible, which reveals how they had internalized Western privilege: this feeling of accessibility can be interpreted as a "wage of Westernness." But they also criticized it as inauthentic and often considered it as a "phase." While narratives of men and women on love, sex, and money differed in some aspects, both were similar when it came to viewing Dubai's nightlife as fostering superficial, materialistic relationships as opposed to authentic, serious, egalitarian relationships, often seen as impossible in Dubai. These territorialized representations of intimate relations participate in constructing gendered, distinctively Western heteronormative subjectivities. They contrast with, and distance themselves from, other non-Western single residents' subjectivities and lifestyles.

7 Western Privilege and White Privilege
chapter abstract

The chapter compares and contrasts the experiences of nonwhite and white Western passport holders. Some residents who experienced discrimination in their home country praise the city's enfranchising multiculturalism, while many whites describe Dubai as an exceptionally racist "caste society." Quality of life, security, and inclusion in a privileged group all take on different meanings—and reflect different material realities—depending on each person's trajectory. Most white interviewees tried to distance themselves from the figure of the nouveau riche while many nonwhite interviewees saw their position in Dubai as compensating for the intergenerational effects of structural racism. By exploring how the interviewees evolved, the chapter highlights how whiteness remains a privileged position among Westerners, and how it interacts in particular with gender. White interviewees (especially men) have benefited from Western privilege more than nonwhite interviewees (especially women): in general, their professional conditions are better and more stable.

Conclusion: Conclusion
chapter abstract

The conclusion comes back to the moral discourses that are central to Westerners' subjectivities, between egalitarianism and the belief that they are objectively more competent than other nationalities. Putting in perspective white and nonwhite Western passport holders' trajectories and subjectivities and how they relate to their home societies and to Dubai's enables a contextualized approach to class and race. It is important to analyze Westerners' role in this society without falling into exceptionalist tropes. While moving to Dubai consolidates the privilege of upper-class Western white men, it enables social mobility to people marginalized in Western societies, though the privilege they experience is often ephemeral.