‘Abu Dhabi is my sweet home’: Arab youth, interstitial spaces, and the building of a cosmopolitan locality

Laure Assaf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, foreign residents constitute more than 88% of the population. This demographic situation is the result of both massive flows of labor migration following the advent of the oil wealth in the late 1960s, and practical limitations in the attribution of nationality which prevent foreign residents from gaining citizenship. This paper offers a look at migration in the Gulf through a different angle, by focusing on second-generation foreigners who are born in Abu Dhabi. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among young men and women of diverse Arab nationalities who all grew up in the city, I show how these young adults craft modes of sociability and daily practices which make use of the interstices of urban space—informal spaces, vacant plots, and parking lots. These practices allow them to build a sense of belonging to the city at a very local scale, thus bypassing the national community to which they do not have access. This locality is also inherently cosmopolitan through being in touch with the cultural and linguistic diversity of Abu Dhabi’s residents. Although it is rarely acknowledged as such, I argue that the ordinary cosmopolitanism at play in the shaping of Abu Dhabi’s specific locality contributes to shaping young people’s subjectivities and their expressions of belonging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)830-841
Number of pages12
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - 2020


  • United Arab Emirates
  • anthropology
  • belonging
  • city
  • sociality
  • youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Urban Studies


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