Critique of Anthropology
French migrants in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates – UAE) are often portrayed as money-driven and greedy, notably by their compatriots. Common representations of the Gulf area as extraordinarily affluent reinforce these suspicions and prompt migrants to justify their expatriation. This moral effort takes on the form of a cosmopolitan ethos. French residents in Abu Dhabi generally express a strong desire to get out of the ‘expatriate bubble’, to meet the ‘locals’, and to experience ‘difference’ and ‘diversity’. They perform migration as an opportunity for cultural enrichment and continuously search for otherness. Abu Dhabi’s unusual demographics and singular coloniality generate complex tensions around these cosmopolitan desires. French delineations of (valuable) otherness conflate ‘local’ and ‘national’, largely replicating orientalist structures of perception. These perceptive schemes homogenize the UAE and erase its ‘diversity’ within the cosmopolitan rationale. French delineations of localness also draw on national narratives constructing the country as ‘Arab’, while casting the foreign resident population (89% of the total UAE population) as non-local and temporary. Drawing on ethnographic field research, the article analyses expatriate cosmopolitan desires for difference as the encounter of Western orientalism and Emirati national narratives of Arabness.
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