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

OMER SHAH, then a graduate student at Columbia University, New York, New York, received a grant in April 2017 to aid research on ‘Apprehending the Crowd: Think Tanks and Start-ups in Making the Modern Hajj,’ supervised by Dr. Brian Larkin. Saudi Arabia is in the midst of an ambitious plan to reimagine social and economic life in the kingdom. The Vision 2030 campaign has sought to prepare the kingdom for a post-oil future: this has involved a movement from oil as a ‘natural resource’ to a new idea of ‘human resources,’ thus demanding the Saudization of various industries and sectors, encouraging entrepreneurship, ‘smartness’ and the intensification of a knowledge economy. Moreover, by 2030, Saudi Arabia is planning to increase the number of annual pilgrims from eight million to thirty million. Another human resource. Hajj and umrah work presents us with an alternative grammar and temporality, where if oil has certain limits, hajj and umrah work has often been described as lasting ‘forever.’ In Mecca, this takes the shape of massive urban development and infrastructural projects, but also the creation of specialized knowledge of the crowd. In addition to these new projects, there are also certain adjustments that are being made to what remains of Mecca’s ancient guild of hajj workers known as mutawifs. In this ethnographic engagement with the holy city, the grantee has tried to track these subtle transformations by working with various actors and forms that might be immediately recognizable such as think tanks, universities, start-ups and consulting firms to more unique and particular formations like the guild of pilgrim guides, mosque security guards and Islamic scholars. In all of this, the research has been interested in how ‘the crowd,’ the holy city, and its ritual is conceptualized, but also in the technical, intellectual and ethical life-worlds of these ‘experts’ and hajj knowledge-workers themselves.