Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Dayna N. Scott


This dissertation investigates the relationship between doctrines and rhetoric of sustainable development (SD) and their compatibility with robust notions of migrant justice. I use migrant-workers-built Masdar City, Abu Dhabis "eco-smart city," as an entry point to examine this relationship. Drawing on Amartya Sen, I rely on a critical capabilities-based environmental justice lens that focuses on the full range of opportunities migrants have at home, in their destination country, and anywhere in between. While this lens offers a means-ends distinction and a pluralistic notion of justice, it must be further specified and supplemented by explicit accounts of structural constraints. The focus, therefore, is on movement and supportive capabilities and this account is further supplemented by Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) and Critical Development Studies that build on post-colonial and post-structural critiques of SD. This multi-lingual project relies on interviews of Pakistani returning migrant workers and government officials; civil society members based in the Gulf region; and Masdar City's student-residents as well as ethnographic reflection notes taken in the UAE and Pakistan. These data supplement a range of international and domestic laws on labour migration; legal and policy instruments on sustainable development; case law; international organization reports; UAE and Pakistani government documents; and publicly available information published by Masdar. The multi-scalar analysis that follows reveals how the international migration regime creates multiple statuses, affording insufficient protection to migrants in an irregular situation. This is further compounded by how the Emirati labour migration regime allocates certain workers to sectors based on race, gender, class, etc. Even the ways it is subverted incentivize and reinforce irregularity and precarity for the most vulnerable. Ultimately, I argue that while irregularity and precarity are mentioned in the Sustainable Development Goals that seek to "leave no one behind," sustainable developments eco-modernist logic and unidimensional view of economic-centred growth waters down its social content. In eco-cities such as Masdar, the status quo is sustained while marginalized and racialized migrant workers building eco-cities are erased in post-oil futures. This projects focus on an oil-rich monarchy contributes to the growing literature on environmental justice in the global South and focus on capabilities adds to theoretical debates on the justice in environmental justice.


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