IPL Speaker Series

Does Skill Make Us Human?: Migrant Workers in 21st-Century Qatar and Beyond

November 3, 2022 | 4:00PM - 6:00PM
Innovation Policy Lab, Migration & borders, Innovation

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'Munk Centre For International Studies - 1 Devonshire Place
This event will be held in-person in the Boardroom at the Observatory, Munk School, 315 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario
Skill—specifically the distinction between the “skilled” and “unskilled”—is generally defined as a measure of ability and training, but Does Skill Make Us Human? shows instead that skill distinctions are used to limit freedom, narrow political rights, and even deny access to imagination and desire. In the lead up to the 2022 World Cup, Qatar has drawn on cutting-edge material, design, and information technology to rebuild itself as a global elite destination for sports and culture. An examination of the Qatar’s booming construction industry and the experiences of migrant workers it relies on reveals that skill functions as a marker of social difference powerful enough to structure all aspects of social and economic life. Through unique access to construction sites in Doha, in-depth research, and interviews, Iskander 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.” Iskander demonstrates that skill categories adjudicate personhood, creating hierarchies that shape working conditions, labor recruitment, migration policy, the design of urban spaces, and the reach of global industries.
About the Speaker: Natasha N. Iskander, Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy, conducts research on the relationship between migration and economic development. She looks at the ways that immigration and the movement of people across borders can provide the basis for the creation of new knowledge and of new pathways for political change. She has published widely on these questions, looking specifically at immigration, skill, economic development, and worker rights.
This event is sponsored by the Innovation Policy Lab and the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy.
Innovation Policy Lab, Migration & borders, Innovation


headshot of Natasha Iskander
Natasha N. Iskander

Associate Professor, Wagner School of Public Service, New York University