In City of Strangers, Andrew M. Gardner explores the
everyday experiences of workers from India who have migrated to the
Kingdom of Bahrain. Like all the petroleum-rich states of the
Persian Gulf, Bahrain hosts an extraordinarily large population of
transmigrant laborers. Guest workers, who make up nearly half of
the country's population, have long labored under a sponsorship
system, the kafala, that organizes the flow of migrants
from South Asia to the Gulf states and contractually links each
laborer to a specific citizen or institution.
In order to remain in Bahrain, the worker is almost entirely
dependent on his sponsor's goodwill. The nature of this
relationship, Gardner contends, often leads to exploitation and
sometimes violence. Through extensive observation and interviews
Gardner focuses on three groups in Bahrain: the unskilled Indian
laborers who make up the most substantial portion of the foreign
workforce on the island; the country's entrepreneurial and
professional Indian middle class; and Bahraini state and citizenry.
He contends that the social segregation and structural violence
produced by Bahrain's kafala system result from a
strategic arrangement by which the state insulates citizens from
the global and neoliberal flows that, paradoxically, are central to
the nation's intended path to the future.
City of Strangers contributes significantly to our
understanding of politics and society among the states of the
Arabian Peninsula and of the migrant labor phenomenon that is an
increasingly important aspect of globalization.
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