This dissertation research examines the impact of migration on the emotional well-being of temporary, low-wage workers who migrate from the Global South to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Unlike previous research in the UAE, this study’s sample reflects a far broader diversity of nationalities and occupations, and focuses on those earning in the lowest wage bracket. Their experiences revealed the systemic attributes of precarity and the violent structures that perpetuate them.
My research addresses several substantive debates. I found that rather than emigrating for rational reasons—as neoclassical theory of migration posits—the migrants in my study tended to rationalize their reasons for emigrating through processes of cognitive dissonance. Further, where previous scholarship has tended to conflate issues of national, ethnic, and racial discrimination, I disentangle the processes that motivate discriminatory behavior by showing how seemingly innocuous references to “nationality” can be driven by a desire to hide racial prejudices, while at the same time, conflating all as “racism” can reflect a simplistic analysis of the contributing factors. I show how past historical structures of colonialism and slavery are manifest in current forms of structural violence and how this violence is differentially experienced on the basis of nationality, perceived racial differences, and/or ethnicity. Additionally, my research expands theories related to the spatial dimension of discrimination. It examines how zones of marginalization shape the experiences of low-wage migrant workers as they move through or occupy these spaces. Marginalizing zones limit workers’ access to the sociality of the city and its institutional resources, which consequently increase their vulnerability.
Individual well-being is determined by stressful events that one encounters, by personal and external sources of resilience, and by perceptions of oneself and the stressful events. For the migrants in my study, their stressors were chronic, cumulative, and ambiguous, and while they brought with them a sufficient amount of personal resilience, it was often mitigated by non-compliance and lack of enforcement of UAE laws. The result was a state of well-being defined by isolation, fear, and despair.