Who will man the rigs when we go?

transnational demographic fever dreams between Qatar and Texas

Article appearing in Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, Volume 40 Issue 5

The educational project of producing engineers in Qatar is uniquely embedded in global capitalism, particularly as a field closely tied to the development of the oil and gas industry, the military and logistics spaces across the Gulf. Over the past two decades, U.S. universities based in the region have become significant spaces where new generations of managerial engineering labor are educated. Drawing on 18 months of institutional ethnographic research, I examine Texas A&M University at Qatar’s (TAMUQ) role in managing the gender demographics of Qatari engineering labor and the experiences of students navigating these institutional mechanisms. The increasing number of women studying at Texas A&M’s engineering branch campus are publicly celebrated by the university as the embodiment of progress in Qatar. At the same time, TAMUQ has worked to mitigate the feminization of engineering through outreach activities that present engineering as a masculine patriotic endeavor. To unpack these contradictory tendencies, I build on the feminist concept of “demographic fever dreams.” Through an examination of contradictory population-based anxieties about Qatari engineering students, I argue that a U.S. land-grant university is a participant and driver of fantasies and fears regarding the future of racialized and gendered labor hierarchies and fossil-fueled capitalism in the Gulf. In doing so, this article offers a grounded feminist intervention to examine the connections between transnational education, U.S. hegemony, and the fossil fuel industry.