Review from Arches alumni magazine, Autumn 2010
City of Strangers: Gulf Migration and the Indian Community in Bahrain
Andrew M. Gardner, assistant professor of anthropology
216 pages, hardcover and paperback
Cornell University Press
Andrew Gardner’s City of Strangers is an interesting read, especially as immigration gains prominence as a political issue in the United States. While Gardner focuses on the Persian Gulf and Bahrain, he allows that the concepts of the book, and the structural violence inherent in the system, can be found along the southern border of the U.S. as well.
City of Strangers is an in-depth look at the forces that cause, permit, and contribute to violence between natives and foreigners in Bahrain, which attracts huge numbers of workers from South Asia for the oil industry.
The system puts workers at a huge disadvantage. They typically enter the country in debt to labor brokers. “Sponsor” citizens or companies control their passports and they cannot freely move between jobs, are often beholden to one employer, are restricted as to where they can travel, and face challenging linguistic and cultural barriers. Such complete inequality creates an environment in which exploitation of the workers is possible and easily justified by the perpetrators.
Gardner notes that there has been some talk in recent years of ending the sponsorship system, or at least giving it over to the state rather than private interests. While initially the system was defended as good for foreign workers, helping them integrate into Bahrain society, the vigorous defense of the status quo is coming mainly from a perspective of the economic interest of those who control the system.
— Greg Scheiderer