Monday, December 1, 2008

10th Interview: a lens on Dubai’s society

1st order: My 10th interview was with an employee of a governmental organization dealing with cultural and social issues in Dubai.
Culture a project?
According to my interview partner, cultural development cannot be seen as a project, because a project is by its constituent nature restricted in time, with a clear beginning and an end. His mandate to develop culture in Dubai is a timeless effort with no final end. Culture is part of society and consequently ongoing. However developing and establishing cultural institutions, such as theatres, museums, etc. can be seen each as a project. But the operations of these institutions can again not be compared to a project, because operation is an ongoing effort.
Dubai’s society part one: old vs. young
Dubai is rooted in a Bedouin culture (see also post: understanding Arabs >>>), which still has a major influence on the older generation (40+). One should not underestimate the rapid development of Dubai. For example a greater part of Dubai has been dessert just ten years back from now. This leads to a confrontation of generations between old Bedouin culture and young generation’s high technology culture. “From Bedouin to global player” resulted in a disavowal of local traditions as well as even the language. The younger generation seem to be more used to English than to Arabic. Traditional culture as fall back and safe haven is missing, which again results in increased uncertainty and problems of identity.
Dubai’s society part two: local vs. newcomer
Additionally, another effect diminishes the local culture. Just about 10% of the people living in Dubai are Emirati (see also post: how Arabic is Dubai >>>). To put it the other way around 90 percent of the people are from different cultural backgrounds, however Dubai is still an Arabic and Islamic determined country. This means land and property ownership, as well as business licensing is a privilege just for the locals, the same accounts for decision-making in government. This has momentous consequences: Dubai is not a melting pot comparable to the US some centuries ago, but a short-term based society. People come here to work on timely restricted projects for three years or so. The city’s society is not built on the basis of a social contract, but rather on pure pragmatism. Dubai provides a market square, where people can come together to make business and ‘go home’ afterwards. Until now social bonds are solely based either on business licensing, work contracts, or leasing of property.
Why culture is needed
Two symptoms characterize this development. Firstly, the locals complain their loss of traditional culture and values, especially the generation 40+. Secondly, culture as a provider of security and stability especially in hard times, such as the financial crisis, is missing. [This can lead to a vulnerable and instable societal and political system, note by JSL]
The problem is identified by the current rulers and efforts to develop culture and keep local traditions are on the way. However how effective these efforts are will show only the future, especially as the current crisis may also have an impact on financing cultural institutions.


  1. Dear Jan,

    I´m interested how social complexity is understood in management
    - culture as described here seems to be a complex of projects, which are threatening the cultures conventions, rituals and institutions from the outside and establishing them from the inside.
    Interesting to me is how social complexity is understood when the environmental thread should be averted and how, when the systems establishment is driven.
    How is connectivity produced and/or avoided?
    How do foreign workers (white and blue collar), tourists and natives (workers, leaders..) describe their relations to the ongoing effort "culture" and how do they deal with the culture in "projects" (Vacation, working/living, taking part/influence)
    - how does cultural management deal with these "projects",
    - how are these projects connected to the big projects going on in Dubai
    - and again: what about connectivity (anschlussfähigkeit) inside the social complexity being managed in projects and culture?

    best regards
    ernst daniel röhrig

  2. The notion of projects being time related tends to be relative. Any kind of social development is ongoing, a continuous stream. However, like in urban planning and development it is a effective exercise to separate a specific periode of time marked by a start and an end as a focus of attention and efford to change purposefully the course of events. Even for a theater or a museum, to quote the given examples, it is a matter of intention and perspective to describe such as projects. E.g. running a certain business may be a family heritage being passed on from generation to generation, or just something someone chooses to do for agiven time.

  3. You cannot not have a culture! As a description of the way things are done it is always a valid description of a given practice. However any practice can be changed. It can be observed, described, recognised and created. It seems to be rather a question of awareness to coem to realise the way culture is cared for. And especially in a situation like in Dubai next to awareness there is the question of participation. Is there any access to any atempts to purposefully change teh situation or use cultural means for the basic needs of sens making?

  4. I agree with your statement Louis, that social, cultural, even technical development is always showing up as a continous ongoing. There is no "first" and no "last" to define clearly - and so there are no possibilities to define clearly the temporal structures of single events, such as projects, happening inside these developments
    - to perceive the Event as an self-closed system is a decision thats got to be made by an observer - it is the construct of a wanted deception, to earn the ability of comparing different concepts inside of the whole ongoing with each other and with the ongoing structure itself - such as they were independent projects!
    My interest is, to find out about the social presuppositions that lead the construction of wanted deception, depending on the differing perspectives of the constructing observers inside these ongoing developments.

    Everyone who participate, with more or less influence on the ongoing, tries to reduce the vast complexity of the eternal developments - and thats a thesis to be proved: the definition of projects (personal, social, cultural, technical) is to reduce the complexity inside a time-window, to concentrate perception on single events, ignoring the structures and events around them, to be able to make a decision and to force further decision about the defined event by offering (temporarily) controllable concepts...

  5. Cultural development as a project?

    To begin with, I would like to describe cultural development as the process pursuing the change of an existing towards a future state of a given culture.

    When it comes to the temporal aspect of cultural development as a project, there are two critical questions:

    1. May I restrict cultural development as to setting a starting and an ending point?
    2. May I restrict cultural development as a project as to setting a starting and an ending point?

    My answer to the first question is a clear "no" and "yes" to the second question!

    First, because the concept of culture as developed patterns of human action and shared behavioural structures in a given societal entity in itself implies an ongoing balancing between maintainance and change.

    Second, a project is commonly understood as a temporarily, planned and goal-oriented working period pursuiting a particular aim. With regard to cultural development, however, the closure of a project on cultural development may not be understood as an ending point but rather as a starting point for the ongoing cultural development.