The Social Reproduction of the Fossil Fuel Industry between Texas and Qatar

Authors: Danya Al-Saleh*, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Topics: Economic Geography, Gender, Energy
Keywords: universities, oil and gas, engineering, social reproduction, feminist geography, institutional ethnography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 4:00 PM / 5:15 PM
Room: Governors Square 17, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In an interview with an employee at Texas A&M University at Qatar, our discussion turned to the feminization of engineering labor in Qatar. Conjuring a geopolitical scenario that somehow involved the evacuation of all Americans from Qatar, he asked a rhetorical question: “Who will man the rigs when we go?” Texas A&M’s engineering branch campus, established in 2003, produces about 100 undergraduates a year, deemed leaders in the fields of petroleum, chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering. TAMUQ is one of six U.S. universities in Education City, a campus that was established in line with the Qatari ruling family’s neoliberal development vision to transition into a competitive knowledge-based economy through the “Qatarization,” or nationalization, of expertise (Qatar National Vision 2030). The presence of female Qatari students at TAMUQ, symbolizing modern progress, is celebrated as the embodiment of this vision. While TAMUQ publicizes its higher percentage of female engineering students than the main campus in Texas, the branch campus simultaneously works to suppress the feminization of the field by presenting engineering as a masculine patriotic endeavor. Through ethnographic research, I examine TAMUQ’s institutional role in managing the “gender balance” of engineering labor produced for the oil and gas industry. Drawing on the feminist geopolitical concept of ‘demographic fever dreams’ (Gokariksel, Neubert, and Smith 2019), I argue that universities are key sites where contemporary struggles over the social reproduction of the fossil fuel industry play out.

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