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SOAS Professor secures ESRC funding to explore development of transport infrastructure in Middle East

11 March 2014

Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics at SOAS, University of London has secured £633,870 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to explore the development of cities, infrastructures, ports and transport in the Middle East and Gulf states.

'Military Mobilities and Mobilising Movements in the Middle East' will examine the role of war, trade and commerce, and struggles over citizenship and labour rights in the making of ports, transport infrastructure and shipping in the Middle East.  It aims to provide a socio-historical account of the emergence of the technologically grand projects of harbour-dredging, port-building, shipping and the accumulation of capital in transport; and to trace the role of migrant workers, military logistics personnel, finance and insurance brokers, and local and faraway powers in these ventures.

Professor Khalili has completed extensive research on the US military, and will use this knowledge to focus on mobilities, military supply chains, and logistics in this project.  The aim is to develop a ‘map’ of interactions and partnerships between the US military, private firms and local regimes.

The project will involve a postdoctoral researcher, and collaboration with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), as well as other organisations that focus on migrant labour, monitoring of defence spending, and environmental sustainability of transport. .

Professor Khalili said: “This project will examine the manner in which global military transformations in the context of ongoing wars actually affect the local politics and social relations of the places in which these militaries are located. In exploring the relations of US militaries with large commercial firms (headquartered both in the region and outside of it) that provide strategic mobility and logistical infrastructures, I aim to view the role of private enterprise and privatisation of military functions in a different way than what has become fairly prevalent.  By looking at the role of citizenship and labour struggles around these issues, I hope to add a degree of depth and nuance to these important concerns.”

SOAS Pro-Director for Research and Enterprise, Professor Richard Black, added: “This major new project will contribute to our vibrant and active programme of research on the Middle East, and confirms the School’s reputation as a home for critical thinking and detailed regional analysis.  It is both theoretically rich, and practically relevant, and promises to advance thinking on this important topic.”