On December 5-6, 2019, Suzi Mirgani, Managing Editor at Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS), Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), took part in a workshop at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) Middle East Center. The workshop, titled “Heritage and National Identity Construction in the Gulf: Between State-building and Grassroots Initiatives,” aimed to contextualize the role of heritage initiatives, as well as broader processes of national identity-making across Gulf States, through a comparative perspective.
Mirgani presented her piece on “Souvenir Sovereignty in Qatar” at the workshop. Her study aims to show that something significant is taking place in Qatar’s museum gift shops—a reformulation of the signifiers of national identity through contemporary commodities. According to her, even though traditional gifts and handmade crafts remain prized and promoted, the introduction of modern museum merchandise is a sign that Qatar has entered into a new stage of national identity formation. Souvenirs narrating the nation are no longer natural or traditional aspects of the country’s heritage, as they have been for decades, but are now made of synthetic materials that—in an age of global neoliberalism—are internationally recognizable. Mirgani raises the question, If souvenirs are meant to signify Qatar’s cultural heritage, then how do the new products on the block— iPhone covers, accessories, t-shirts—fit into the narrative? How do modern museum merchandise and commercial artifacts sold in Qatar’s museums, souqs, and shopping malls problematize Qatar’s traditional historical narrative?
- Read the workshop programme here.