Between Dreams and Ghosts
Indian Migration and Middle Eastern Oil
Andrea Wright


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Beyond Surplus and Scarcity
chapter abstract

This introduction to this part begins by discussing a trip to recruit laborers for projects in the Gulf and the reasons one young man explained that he wanted to migrate. It introduces the challenges workers face working in the Gulf and the Indian government's regulation of emigration. It contextualizes labor in the oil industry—arguing it is more complicated than economic models of surplus and scarcity. Rather, labor in the oil industry is imbricated in histories of colonialism and imperialism. trade. dreams. and debt. It presents the case of considering labor in the oil industry with an ethnographic perspective that attends to the process of migration and the relationships that are formed in order to migrate.

Part I: Of Mangoes and Men
chapter abstract

This introduces the following three chapters, which focus on the process of migration. It considers how recruiting agencies' histories (in trade or religious pilgrimage) and British colonialism in the Arabian Sea have an impact on the contemporary migration of Indians to work in oil fields.

One: Protecting Vulnerable Citizens
chapter abstract

This chapter examines current emigration regulations by the Indian government. It looks at how bureaucrats, migrants, and recruiting agencies navigate these regulations. It also examines the roots of these regulations in colonial labor mobilities used to move indentured workers, how bureaucrats in India following independence adopted these regulations, and how bureaucrats today understand and engage with these regulations.

Two: Cultivating Entrepreneurs
chapter abstract

This chapter looks at how recruiting agents and Indian government officials understand migrants to be representative of India's brand abroad. Unlike other commodities, migrants are seen as uniquely able to improve themselves through cultivating an entrepreneurial approach to self and work. By cultivating themselves into entrepreneurs, government officials and recruiting agents believe migrants will be better representatives of India's brand. As a result, recruiting agents implement policies to try to teach entrepreneurship to prospective migrants.

Three: Building Influential Networks
chapter abstract

This chapter looks at how energy companies hire workers through recruiting agencies in India. It demonstrates that relationships and networks influence who is hired for positions. It looks at how networks are shaped and maintained, including through understandings of locality, gifts, the exchange of money, and circulation. It also shows how prospective migrants are affected when their networks are ineffective.

Part II: Connective Substances
chapter abstract

This part introduction introduces the reasons for migration through discussing how migrants weigh familial obligations with consumer choices, which my interlocutors describe as being seduced by the glitter (chamak) of Dubai and forgetting one's familial obligations. It also shares how people encourage migrants to fulfill their familial obligations through juxtaposing a good son with a story about a migrant who does not fulfill obligations and meets an untimely end.

Four: Making Kin with Gold
chapter abstract

This chapter considers how migrants fulfill their gendered family obligations as sons and brothers through migrating and buying gold for their sisters' or daughters' weddings. This gift, also known as dowry, is given from the bride's family to the groom's family at marriage. It also examines how the sisters and wives of migrants engage with this gift and work, in uncelebrated and gendered ways, within the home to create and sustain familial relationships.

Five: The Rig and the Temple
chapter abstract

Many Indian migrants come from minority communities in India. Despite contemporary Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) politics that excludes these communities from participation in India's development and future, migrants make claims for their work abroad as directly contributing to the nation's development and future. In addition, they draw on their experience working with Europeans and Americans to criticize the Indian hierarchy, and they also critique American and European practices by arguing for the responsibility of individuals to each other and to nature.

Part III: The Weight of Tradition
chapter abstract

This part introduction introduces contemporary labor practices in the Gulf. It explores how these practices are often associated with traditional, pre–World War I, Gulf Arab traditions. It demonstrates that we must also attend to the role of oil company management practices historically and today in order to understand contemporary labor conditions in the Gulf.

Six: Blowing Sand
chapter abstract

This chapter looks at the role of camps and security in structuring contemporary labor conditions in the Gulf. It considers the history of these practices and their current implementation. In addition, it considers how camps and security reinforce racialized labor hierarchies and the isolation of migrant laborers. It concludes by examining an abandoned camp and finds that it is not exceptional to the Gulf but is, rather, an extension of these managerial practices.

Seven: The Demon of Unsafe Acts
chapter abstract

This chapter looks at how corporate risk is displaced onto the most vulnerable through contracting, subcontracting, and safety practices. It considers how safety is understood to be an individual disciplinary practice and obfuscates the structural issues that create unsafe working conditions. It examines how workers engage with and adapt this idea of safety through memes, such as one of Durga defeating the Demon of Unsafe Acts. It then draws parallels between the discourses around worker safety in the Gulf and the blowout of Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico to demonstrate that the use of safety practices as an individual disciplinary technique is used in multiple situations to displace corporate risk.

Conclusion: Enduring Debts
chapter abstract

In the conclusion, I consider how communities of returned migrants in India have organized themselves in order to put pressure on the Indian government for assistance. In making these claims, returned migrants critique government policies, economic changes, and corporate practices. I reflect on how the process of research, and following migrants, sheds light on the complexity of structural inequalities that lead to the treatment of some humans as disposable. I situate these discussions of neoliberal change in perspectives presented by migrants, oil company managers, and recruiting agents.