Flexible Citizenship in Dubai: Neoliberal Subjectivity in the Emerging 'City-Corporation'

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Ahmed Kanna


Cultural Anthropology, Volume 25, Issue 1, p.100-129 (2010)


This essay addresses subjectivity in the context of the emergence of neoliberalism in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The appropriation of neoliberal values and policies in Dubai offers data on cultural processes that demonstrate the highly localized ways neoliberalism is inflected, challenging theories of neoliberal policies as monolithic instruments of global integration. Unlike other national contexts such as Singapore, local inflections of neoliberalism in Dubai are governed more by notions of ethically “valuable” citizenship and authentic identity than by economically “valuable” citizenship. The essay focuses on the young corporate employees of some of Dubai's leading corporations, who I call Dubai's “flexible citizens.” First situating the genealogy of neoliberalism and its flexible citizens in the colonial history of Dubai, the essay goes on to analyze the ways Dubai's flexible citizens appropriate neoliberal discourses to mediate local ambiguities and tensions of social and gender identity. The essay concludes with a discussion of how neoliberal Dubai is evolving in the wake of the 2008 world economic crisis.