Accepted Paper:

Beyond the brand: Dubai's dokkans as places of belonging  


Anke Reichenbach (Zayed University Dubai)
Suhaila Al Behandy (Oxford University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores to what extent Dubai’s citizens identify with the Dubai brand and its focus on places of lavish consumption and Orientalist fantasies. Alternative public discourses suggest that Dubayyans’ sense of belonging is linked to more mundane spaces such as the neighborhood corner shop.

Paper long abstract:

On the global stage, Dubai's self-presentation as an upscale tourist destination, characterized by iconic architecture, lavish consumption, and 'Oriental' traditions including desert safaris and 'heritage-inspired' luxury hotels, has been very successful. But how do Dubai's indigenous citizens identify with the brand?

This paper will show that local attitudes toward the city's 'brandscape' (Klingmann 2007) are ambivalent, entailing patriotic pride but also the perception that Dubai's extravagant projects and invented traditions are not created for Dubayyans themselves but for an international audience dreaming of a hedonistic Orientalist utopia. Dubayyans' emotional attachment to the brand and its spectacular built environments is therefore weak; feelings of social belonging and cultural identity are instead linked to more mundane spaces of everyday life that have survived Dubai's modernization frenzy, such as the dokkan, or neighborhood corner shop.

The recent threat of the dokkans' enforced closure due to 'unhygienic conditions' triggered public debates that defended the small shops as essential part of local popular culture. Described as neighborhood institutions that generations of Dubayyans have grown up with, the dokkans were lovingly portrayed as places with deep memories connecting owners, shopkeepers and patrons, and as rich stores of sensory experiences through the colors, flavors and odors of their familiar products. Although far removed from the glitter of the Dubai brand, the dokkan has emerged in these alternative discourses as symbol of 'authentic' community life that for Dubayyans' sense of place is more relevant than tall towers or the fantasies of 1001 nights sold to foreign tourists.

Panel Heri005
Heritage management and identity brands: interplay and stakes (En-Fr)