Theses Doctoral

Made in Mecca: Expertise, Smart Technology, and Hospitality in the Post-Oil Holy City

Shah, Omer

Under the new Vision 2030 national transformation plan, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia seeks to increase number of annual pilgrims from eight million to thirty million. If oil has certain limits, then pilgrimage is framed as lasting “forever.” But this exuberant claim of “forever” belies a more subtle transformation unfolding at the level of knowledge, technology, and hospitality as Mecca and its crowds are made and re-made into a resource for a national economy. This dissertation examines the Saudi state’s efforts to manage, and ultimately intensify and optimize Mecca’s pilgrimage through new sciences and technologies of crowd management, logistics, and secular hospitality.

I demonstrate how these new forms of knowledge production operate in tension with older and decidedly more Islamic ways of knowing, managing, and belonging in the holy city. Instead of approaching religious knowledge and secular knowledge as discrete spheres, my research explores their entanglements and aporias across a range of techno-political practices: navigation, hospitality, urban planning, systems thinking, crowd management, and optimization. Ultimately, I explore how in this moment of ritual intensity, the cosmopolitan logics of the holy city come to be blunted.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Larkin, Brian
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 30, 2021