On April 20, AGSIW hosted the workshop “State and Culture in Saudi Arabia: Understanding the Moment of Transformation.” Since the launch of Saudi Vision 2030, the ambitious plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy, far-reaching reforms have swept various domains of life in the kingdom, from lifestyle and public dress to the government’s bureaucracy and legal system. This agenda has been accompanied by concerted efforts to transform Saudi culture, a process understood to be integral to achieving political and economic goals. Why does the state give priority and allocate resources to cultural reforms? How is this cultural sphere perceived, defined, and managed by the state? What kind of narrative, identity, and ideology is the state promoting, and how are they connected to the broader economic and political contexts?
The six papers presented in this workshop adopted a broad approach to the question of state and culture – analyzing the origins of and rationales for state strategies in managing culture as well as examining the transnational and global processes that inform such strategies and their consequences. By examining this state intervention across many different sites – from art initiatives, film, and heritage projects to security, law, and religion – the papers aimed to shed light on this historical moment of transformation in Saudi Arabia, illuminating what is distinct and what can be discerned from other state projects, both past and present.
This workshop was designed as a closed roundtable with paper presentations by designated speakers and an open discussion among invited discussants.