Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Anthropology, Columbia University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2017
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Columbia University
Apprehending the Crowd: Think Tanks & Start-Ups in the Making of the Modern Hajj

The pilgrimage to Mecca or the hajj is the quintessential site of Muslim knowledge production, transmission and exchange. The hajj is often imagined as a key articulation of the ummah or the community of believers. Increasingly, the hajj is being tied to the authority of the Saudi state in new and complicated ways. For in the twilight of an oil economy, the hajj is made to intersect with an economic system center on the production, regulation and dissemination of knowledge. My dissertation research will examine the various ways this knowledge-economy intersects with the hajj. To do this, I will look at research centers, think tanks and start-up companies and their techniques and technologies that are being deployed in the Saudi state's attempt to manage crowds. These institutions signal and enact a profound transformation, one in which the holy city becomes a smart city, a model for technocratic management the world over. One such place is Wadi Makkah, a new science and technology park on the outskirts of the holy city. Wadi Makkah houses and provides funding for various tech start-ups, many of which offers solutions to problems of crowding and logistics. It is a key site from which to consider Mecca's transformation into a laboratory for the crowd, where a new kind of technological utopia is being built on the back of something ancient. Drawing from science and technology studies, the anthropology of Islam and media studies, my project will investigate the status of the crowd in the Islamic tradition, and how this tradition interacts with various modalities of crowd control in the holy city—from the exuberant claims of digital governance to the exhaustive labor of security workers. In thinking about ways of "knowing" or "studying" the crowd, my project must be sensitive to the histories of knowledge-production, but also more recent movement towards "hajj studies" and "crowd science" and the subsequent deployment of these techniques in and out of the Saudi state.