Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Qatar Unified Imaging Project (QUIP) Maps Qatar's Cultural Heritage

How is Commercialization and Urbanization Impacting the Culture of Doha?

Two days ago, I heard about the QUIP research project, which holds great relevance for the research culture of Qatar as well as the broader community of people that are interested in the history and cultural traditions of this country – including the awesome members of this cultural sociology class! The project is spearheaded by Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQatar) and is funded by the Qatar National Research Fund. I would like to think of it as a cross-cultural collaboration between an American design school VCU, Qatar University, and the British-based University Of Exeter, which boasts the highest collective expertise on gulf studies that includes anthropology, history, Islamic studies, sociolinguistics, material culture and many more. I met with Tammi Moe, lead Principle Investigator on this three-year project. Over a huge plate of French fries and three liters of soda, Mrs. Moe was able to provide me with a substantial wealth of information regarding this stimulating research project. I was particularly interested in the aspects of the research that include cultural diffusion, and the impact of commercialization and urbanization on Qatar’s cultural heritage.

Source: VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives

Heritage informs nearly all fields of research because it allows us to understand our humanity. We can look at material and non-material culture to identify what we value as humans. In the stories we pass on from generation to generation we communicate our essence.

Source: VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives

The objects of material culture and the practices of non-material culture show our values and are meaningful to understanding humanity. Games we played as children, our mother's recipes, what we captured in a photo, traditional dancing, music, objects of veneration are different expressions of our cultural heritage.

Source: VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives

It's how we participate in shaping the value of these objects and practices that informs other disciplines from sociology to design. That is why I found QUIP to be a vital and crucial project. It will help guide the interpretation of researchers around the world by creating access to what is important in Qatar's culture.

Source: VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives

These values and belief systems are easily over shadowed by what is currently being emphasized, the highly visible consumer and brand name culture that the world's attention is now focused on. We become distracted by the glitz and glamour and forget what the true values and beliefs of this society are and this has placed the material and non-material culture of Qatar at risk.

Source: VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives

Pearl Diving ­­– A cultural object that belongs to Qatar’s heritage. As Griswold defines it, this cultural object is a “socially meaningful expression” of Qatari tradition, and “tells a story” of this people’s way of life and means of living.

Source: VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives

Commercialization and urbanization have shifted the cultural focus from traditional to modern consumption – from barely surviving to ultra luxury. The urban sprawl has introduced “the other” into the closely guarded fareej forcing the neighborhoods of Qatar to spread apart. So much so that there is a project underway to rebuild the “heart of Doha” displacing merchants that provided reasonably priced goods, to over-priced merchandise.

A lot of very interesting entries on Qatar traditional activities are found on this blog.

There are grassroots efforts to preserve traditional architecture but so much has already been destroyed in the push for rapid advancement.

source (up): VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives (Both pictures taken at Souq Wakif)

Check out this website that portrays the background and changes of Qatar.

Examples of the Transmission and Reinterpretation of Culture:

It used to be that shopping occurred in the living rooms of neighborhood women and Souq Waqif. Now we have brand stores in large shopping malls.

Source: VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives

In explaining how the cultural heritage of Qatar is fading and being neglected, Tammi Moe referred to an article in the Guardian newspaper, saying " Although this is an interesting article it completely neglects the true "cultural heritage" of Qatar and the surrounding Gulf. It focuses completely on modern events and forgets about the people of Qatar that have struggled to live here before the discovery oil. Qatar's heritage and culture is rich in many ways and we must maintain the cultural memory through modern vehicles."

Source: VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives

Overshadowing of culture:

For example the following pictures depict the literal overshadowing of modern architecture. The new designs overpower and diminish the essential historical and cultural monument:-

Source: VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives (Both images of Qatar National Museum)

Old mosque architecture/ Modern mosque architecture:

source(up): VCUQ Photo Gallary Archives

This change also includes "cultural diffusion"- a process where cultures adopt parts of other cultures. Qatar is adopting modern styles of architecture from other western cultures.

Fingers crossed, this project will build the research materials so that sociologists, anthropologists, and scholars can study and explore Qatar’s rich and very existent culture. Hopefully, QUIP will map cultural indicators and document them before they are lost forever.

Many thanks to the fabulous Tammi Moe for allowing me access to these super cool photo archives. Also, for her time, help, generosity with information, insightfulness, and of course - the irresistible fries.


  1. This is a really great project. How do we learn more about the results?


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