Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kuwait - Life in Pre-Oil Kuwait 1998 (#1)

Space, Urban Development, and Social Change in Kuwait City, 1896 - 1986: The Case of the Hadhar Community

Farah al-Nakib’s presentation, Space, Urban Development and Social Change in Kuwait City, 1896 – 1986: The Case of the Hadhar Community, examined the affects of urban development on social change. She discussed how urban development has influenced the transformation of Kuwait from a nineteenth century small fishing town to a twentieth century modern city.

More specifically, al-Nakib’s research gives an overview of the changes that took place within the Hadhar community of Kuwait (i.e. the old residents of the city) from the pre-oil to oil periods. Her research illustrates the relationship between space, urban development and social change.

According to al-Nakib, the urban history of Kuwait can generally be divided into two periods: the pre-oil and oil periods, which both encompass their own phases. The first phase in the development of Kuwait City occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During this time Kuwait grew from a small town, to a vibrant and prosperous city whose inhabitants adopted mercantile and ship-building occupations. Also, due to the strategic location of the town, it developed into one of the most important port-cities of the Gulf.

The demolition of the town wall in 1920 was an important stage in the development of the city. The construction of this wall had created a concrete division (for the first time) between the townspeople (the Hadhar) and the nomadic people outside of the city. Following this, Kuwait underwent an economic recession. This period of recession ended with the development of the oil economy in the 1950s.

“As far as the urban development of Kuwait goes, the oil period actually begins in 1951 with the drawing of the first master plan of the city; this led to the pattern of urban planning and development that took place over the coming decades,” al-Nakib noted.

Following this, the Kuwaiti government brought in a variety of different urban planning companies to develop Kuwait into a ‘modern’ city. The city of Kuwait was changed dramatically by this development, since the state essentially destroyed the old city to make way for the new one.

More importantly, al-Nakib's research examines the impact of the changing structure of Kuwait City on the social and political dynamics of urban life in the transition from the pre-oil to oil periods. Her research aims to explore the extent to which social and political identities and the interactions and structures of life have transformed as a result of the rapid changes that took place to the urban landscape of Kuwait City.

“One part of my research, therefore, seeks to develop a reconstruction or an ethnographic micro-history of urban life in pre-oil Kuwait… This involves an examination of the physical morphology of the old town, as well as a survey of the social, economic and political networks and institutions that define day-to-day urban life before oil.”

The second part of al-Nakib’s research focuses on the early years of urbanisation, from 1951 to the middle of the 1980s. This research looks at the combination of state planning policies and initiatives, which, in only a few decades, transformed Kuwait from a small maritime town into a crowded, sprawling city.

“Most importantly, my research seeks to assess how the social and political structures of urban life changed with the advent of oil urbanisation as a result of such drastic changes to the urban form of the city.”

By exploring the urban development of Kuwait city from the pre-oil through to oil periods, al-Nakib seeks to identify the impact on social, political and economical structures, particularly on certain social groups.

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