Omer Shah

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Columbia U.

Grant number

Gr. 9491

Approve Date

April 27, 2017

Project Title

Shah, Omer, Columbia U., New York, NY - To aid research on 'Apprehending the Crowd: Think Tanks & Start-ups in Making the Modern Hajj,' supervised by Dr. Brian Larkin

Preliminary abstract: The pilgrimage to Mecca or the hajj is the quintessential site of Muslim knowledge production. It is often imagined as a key articulation of the ummah or the community of believers. Increasingly, the hajj is being tied to the authority of the Saudi state in new and complicated ways. For in the twilight of an oil economy, the hajj is made to intersect with an economic system center on the production, regulation and dissemination of knowledge. My dissertation research will examine this intersection. To do this, I will look at research centers, think tanks and start-up companies and their techniques and technologies that are deployed in the Saudi state’s attempt to manage crowds. These institutions signal and enact a profound transformation, one in which the holy city becomes a smart city. One such institution is Wadi Makkah, a new science and technology park. Wadi Makkah houses and provides funding for various tech start-ups, many of which offers crowding solutions. It is a key site from which to consider Mecca’s transformation into a laboratory for the crowd, where a new kind of utopia is being built on the back of something ancient. Drawing from science and technology studies, the anthropology of Islam and media studies, my project will investigate the status of the crowd in the Islamic tradition, and how this tradition interacts with various modalities of crowd control in the holy city–from the exuberant claims of digital governance to the exhaustive labor of security workers. In thinking about ways of ‘knowing’ or ‘studying’ the crowd, my project must be sensitive to the deep histories of knowledge-production, but also to this more recent movement towards ‘hajj studies’ and ‘crowd science’ and the subsequent deployment of these techniques in and out of the Saudi state.