A Review and Critique of the Saudization Metanarrative: Bringing "The Citizen" Into Focus
In 1994, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia introduced Saudization policy to address the problems that emerged from the rapid modernization that followed the 1970s oil boom; namely unemployment and a national labor force heavily dependent on expatriate labor. The policy's basic objective: to increase the proportion of Saudi nationals in the private sector, and develop a national labor force capable of sustaining a knowledge-based economy. Since its inception, the policy has registered low to moderate levels of success. A report issued by the Ministry of Labor in 2011 confirmed the policy's stagnation. The question of why the policy was stagnating was taken up by a legion of scholars and policy experts. The literature that emerged argued that in order to increase private sector employment and improve the competitiveness of Saudi workers Saudi Arabia must focus primarily on improving the quality of education and on labor policy reform. This thesis takes issue with the explanations that have emerged to explain the failures of Saudization policy; a discourse I refer to as the "Saudization metanarrative".The metanarrative identifies "education" and "policy" as the focal points of Saudization discourse; it argues that once the state addresses the problems stemming from education and policy, the structural issues of Saudization will correct. In both narratives, the state is framed as a separate and exogenous actor. This type of framing overlooks the potential role the state plays in creating the problems of Saudization. I assert that the state is not exogenous and can act to reinforce a political system in which the state dominates and leaves little room for citizen engagement. In order to gain a more grounded understanding of the role of the state I propose expanding the paradigm to incorporate aspects that have largely been overlooked by the Saudization metanarrative. Namely, I argue that the inclusion of "citizenship" as an analytical category allows us to unveil important aspects of power relations between rulers and ruled, as well as analyze the logic behind these relations.The central argument of this thesis is that there is an ideational contradiction between "the citizen" needed to inhabit the knowledge economy which the state claims is needed to ensure the success of Saudization, on the one hand, and "the citizen" created to inhabit Saudi society, on the other. The state narrative draws a link between Saudization and the knowledge economy, and asserts that the citizen needed to create and maintain this conceptual link is independent, rational, creative, mobile in his movement, adaptive, and skilled; this link relies on a citizen that has agency to make decisions, develop new skills and abilities that not only lead to economic growth, but also support wider social objectives of inclusion and equality. However, al-shabāb wi-qiyam al-muwatana fy al-mujtamaʿ al-ʿaraby al-saʿudy (Youth and Concepts of Citizenship in Saudi Soicety), a textbook used for civic education at the university level (produced by the Ministry of Education), creates a citizen that is fiercely loyal to the state, obedient, disciplined, never independent, limited in his mobility, without agency, and tethered to the state project. The stark thematic differences in both constructed "citizens" suggest an inherent ideational contradiction within the official state narrative.Additionally, this thesis aims to understand how the individual citizen views citizenship, not simply as a concept but as a lived practice. It seeks to identify the ways in which individuals view and exercise citizenship in relation to political, economic and social institutions that they encounter on a daily basis. I interviewed 22 Saudi citizens and asked a series of questions about their conceptions of citizenship. The citizen that the interviewees describe is entitled, is part of a fixed social hierarchy based on citizenship status, lacks a feeling of ownership that generates lowered incentive for productivity, and is a member of a family unit that detracts from individual independence and mobility. The citizen that inhabits the knowledge economy, on the other hand, must be productive, independent and mobile. He or she must earn entitlement through merit, and not a pre-determined legal status.Encasing the Saudization debate within a narrow and bounded framework allows Saudi Arabia's political structures, education system, and labor policies to escape criticism beyond just narrowed and superficial narratives that focus mainly on macro-level statistics related to education and policy. By omitting several conceptual and analytical dimensions the "Saudization metanarrative" is unable to provide a nuanced understanding of the failures associated with Saudization. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 demonstrate how expanding the metanarrative to incorporate citizenship as an analytical category enriches the Saudization policy discussions and allows us to think critically about the problems underlying its stagnation.
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