Review of Consuming to Excess
About the Authors
This chapter was co-written Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk.
Mike Davis (born 1946) is an American writer, political activist, urban theorist and historian, best known for his investigations of power and social class in his native Southern California. His education was punctuated by stints as a meat cutter, truck driver, and democratic activist. Until 1970s when he earned both his bachelor and master degrees, he had only studied briefly at Reed College in 1960s. Though he failed to complete his doctorate degree programme in History from the University of California, Los Angeles, he was later a Getty Scholar at the Getty Research Institute between 1996 and 1997 and received a MacArthur Fellowship Award in 1998. He is a self-defined international socialist and Marxist-Environmentalist. He writes in the tradition of socialists/architects/regionalism advocates. Davis is the author of more than 20 books and more than 100 book chapters and essays in the scholarly and elite popular press. His scholarly interests span urban studies, the built environment, economic history and social movements.
Daniel Bertrand Monk is a George R. and Myra T. Cooley Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies and Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Colgate University? His research focuses on the history and spatial practices of the Israel/Palestine conflict. As a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security (CIPS-SSRC), Monk is the author of books and several publications and also serves as an Associate Professor of Art and Architecture at the State University of New York, Stony Brook while teaching at Harvard University. He is a Graduate School of Design, a practicing architect, he has also been the recipient of an SSRC-MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in International Peace and Security and the Samuel H. Kress Fellowship from the American Schools of Oriental Research.
‘On a planet where more than 2 billion people subsist on two dollars or less a day, these dream worlds enflame desires – for infinite consumption, total social exclusion and physical security, and architectural monumentality – that are clearly incompatible with the ecological and moral survival of humanity’ - Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk
The question posed by Monk and Davis is ‘how did Dubai become Dubai?’ This paper tries to address this question by review the various activities and events that has enhanced what most people will simple call a happenstance.
In recent years, media and academic attention to Dubai has heightened as a result of the profound urban transformation. Vora (2012) holds the view that the rapid growth manifests in form of is either celebratory stories of Arab modernity or denigrations of the capitalist migrant labor exploitation. It is only few years ago that the world became acquainted with Dubai, upon the launching of a thousand magazine features presented as rich, strange, tacky, and threatening (Brook, 2013). At this time, Dubai was touted as a new phenomenon, but it is actually just the most recent iteration of a far older one.
As one of the fastest growing cities in the world, the oil sector of Dubai started off long time ago but decades ago, but they quickly ran out, since then, the focus diverted to finance and tourism as their main source of revenue. They made use of the oil by selling it, and then invested that money to build all the gigantic projects simply to attract tourists.
It is believed that Abu Dhabi emirate, for which Dubai is capital city, is the richest and fastest growing city in the world, which explains why it gets all the attention in the entire universe. In 2008 when the world was hit by the recession, Dubai was one of the only cities in the region to be hit most because of its overdependence on the finance and tourism industries and this temporarily hindered their growth.
Prior to the tourism innovations today, Dubai was a primitive city as contained in an article published in London Times in 1956 making reference to Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim that
‘One look at Dubai and you think of Conrad. Somewhere surely along this exotic creek, where the dhows lie bow to stern under ragged and piebald flags and the boatmen leave their passengers under white awning from shore to shore, like Venetian gondoliers, somewhere a broken giant of a white man must be expiating a fearful sin- the Lord Jim of the Trucial Coast. The thought has its significance, for it places Dubai where it belongs, squarely in the nineteenth century. It is the Persian Gulf before oil. There could be no Lord Jims in Kuwait’.
Dubai’s growth has, for the last few years, been massively driven by real estate growth and has all the excellent buildings in the world such as the tallest building, most luxurious hotel, tallest hotel, largest islands, largest airport, etc. Dubai as a city had 25% of all heavy construction equipment in the world till the 2008 recession. While the rise of these global crossroads cities was once checked by the speed of ocean liners and locomotives, today their growth is powered by intercontinental jets that can move a passenger from any major city in the world to any other in a single day. So while the city of Dubai is new, the idea of Dubai is not. It is just that in the age of jet-powered globalization, the idea can achieve launch as never before.
Since foreign investments decreased due to the massive bad press generated, many other real estate developers were forced to delay projects and this led to chain reaction of defaults. Given Dubai's tiny population, it was impossible to sustain the real estate sector with local demand, however, today the real estate sector though nowhere near its glory days, is fast recovering.
Besides real estate, which still occupies a quarter of Dubai's economy, trade and finance are the major sectors contributing to the economy. Though tourism does generate a lot of goodwill for the city possibly contributing to other sectors, it is still very small compared to that of trade and finance. Trade as the strongest sector has contributed massively to Dubai’s success over the last century, transforming it from a small trading village to one of the most important ports (sea and air) in the world. Almost everything that crosses from the West to Asia, and vice versa, goes via a Dubai port.
Anyone who visits Dubai may be surprised to note that many individuals who call Dubai home are not originally citizens of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Many individuals living within Dubai are from other countries mostly of the Asian and Arab world such as India, Iran and Pakistan, to name a few. This goes to show the desirable features which Dubai possesses as many find themselves making Dubai their home.
Due to its dependence on foreign labor, it requires physical spaces to house workers and so these labor camps exist on the fringes of Dubai and represent highly regulated and surveyed spaces. According to Dehaene and De Cauter a camp is not an extension of the law like the prison, but rather a space that is extra-territorial to the law, meaning that in a camp, law is suspended. The encampment emerges from the nature-state and moves towards the city, and therefore fulfills a proto-political role, marking disintegration of society in the state of exception. In other words, the camp is the situation in which the division between private and public is suspended and where the city is annihilated and the citizen reduced to bare life.
Also, because Dubai is neither cheap nor has a viable captive population, with 83% of the population being expats, it has very little or no outsourcing and so people do not pay taxes at all.
Reference here is made about two aspects, shopping in particular and consuming in general (p.81), that Dubai is evil paradise of seductive attraction, constructed and imagined as places of and for movement. Accordingly, some forms of consumption take the form of powerful addictions, and so there have developed further distinct places where treatments for such addictions are also provided (p.115).
There are two aspects used in this chapter; first is the idea that consumer goods and services, what we will term “consumer experiences” are put to work by people. In the view of Goddman, as they are put to work, self as produced and reproduced provides a detailed description and analysis of process and meaning in mundane interaction. The extreme form of this remaking of self is in terms of upgrading the body through cosmetic surgery.
The other concepts that authors mentioned is, “Neighborhood lives” and “beyond neighborhood”. The experiences of neighborhood come from nostalgia. Neighborhood means physical, there is a place and the place is safe. They explained how local neighborhood markets mobilize to the other places. In various ways, the development of such a field shifts the nature of consumption beyond these neighborhoods lives. And then they explained that how the goods after produce by different ways moved beyond and outside neighborhoods (p.117).
Neoliberalism is also talked about and the thought of neoliberalism explains its difference from late capitalism. Although neoliberalism is a polysemy concept with multiple referents, anthropologists have most commonly understood neoliberalism in two main ways: as a structural force that affects people’s life-chances and as an ideology of governance that shapes subjectivities. Neoliberalism frequently functions as an index of the global political-economic order and allows for a vast array of ethnographic sites and topics to be contained within the same frame. However, as an analytical framework, neoliberalism can also obscure ethnographic particularities and foreclose certain avenues of inquiry. (Ganti, 2014).
The portrayals of neoliberalism in Dubai have often hinged on narratives about the hyper-exploitation of migrant workers in the city (Buckley, 2012). These narratives are explored using the governance of lower-waged construction migrants and their recent role in market-led processes of urbanization. Reference is also made to ‘these social reproductive realms of the body and the mass-worker household that have offered a temporary spatial fix to the limitations of autocratic rule in a neoliberalizing city, while also raising moments of political possibility for construction migrants (p,3).
Popular representations of Dubai and its monumental construction projects emphasize this modernity, but a closer read finds that these texts are grossly misleading on how the city’s massive construction projects come to be. Palm Jumeirah is the result of neoliberal economic decisions made by Dubai’s governing elite that facilitate the exploitation of cheap labor sources and the movement of financial capital from the global upper class, to whom the development is marketed as one of unimaginable luxury and security (Zach, 2010).
I wish to draw the conclusion that it is possible for authoritarian governments to use their power of their regimes to effectively implement neoliberal policy resulting in cohesive branding to convince the rest of the world that theirs is a global city. Dubai , manage to selectively implement neoliberal tactics using their consolidated authority to achieve a balance that liberalizes the city enough for the global audience to accept them as a global hub, but not enough for the regime to lose its grasp on power.
In this chapter, the explanation of neo-liberal government of Dubai, was low. It was just an overview of the theory. The most explanation was about Dubai itself, constructions, consumers, etc. They failed to talk about how the neo liberal government of Dubai exploiting the labourers and also the other disturbing cases of gambling, human traffic and sex. In my point of view, these would have also been addressed.
Brook, D. (2013). A History of Future Cities. Washington: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Buckley, M. (2012, May 16). Locating Neoliberalism in Dubai: Migrant Workers and Class Struggle in the Autocratic City.
Ganti, T. (2014). Neoliberalism. Annual Reviews, 3.
Harvey, D. (2006). Spaces of Global Capitalism, London: Verso.
Wikipedia, (2014), Mike Davis, retrieved on 18/12/2014 from http://En.Wikipedia.Org/Wiki/Mike_Davis_ (Scholar).
Vora, N. (2012). United Arab Emirates-Dubai: The City as Corporation. The Middle East Journal, 4.
Zach, S. (2010). "Offshore Urbanism: The Intersecting Roles of Neoliberalism and Historical Memory in Creating Dubai's Palm. 5.