Precarity as Freedom? Entrepreneurship and Social Change in Oman

Authors: Feras Klenk*, University of Arizona
Topics: Cultural Geography, Political Geography, Middle East
Keywords: work, entrepreneurship, affect, development, middle east, freedom, precarity, oman, persian gulf
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: 8201, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Oman, the office job in the public sector is considered prestigious and highly sought after. With guaranteed lifetime job security, good pay, and “flexible work,” it is considered ideal by many. This desirability of office job originates in the historical transition of the region from pastoral nomadism to a modern capitalist economy centered on fossil fuels. In the Omani context, this transition took place in the 1970s, when citizens were recruited to new state bureaucracies. This process was a part of the modernizing state building project that resulted in a generous welfare state for Omani citizens. The air-conditioned office in a government ministry replaced the farm and the fishing boat as the new and preferred space of work in Oman. Older generations nostalgically remember life before fossil fuels as precarious, but also “harsh” and difficult.” Citing “frustration” with working in government, today many Omanis are ready and willing to give up the security and social prestige of a government office job in order to pursue business. In this paper I examine why this is the case and argue that Omanis express dissatisfaction with the established social order through the vehicle of entrepreneurship, where creating your own business has become a symbol for self-development. Many who forgo office work in a government ministry lose status their precarious existence is always mitigated by networks of support. At the same, newly fledgling entrepreneurs define precarity as freedom, where they explore their own self-interests without familial interference and the burden of social expectations

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