In 2016, the Saudi Arabian state embarked on a sweeping reform project branded as ‘Vision 2030’, which aims at radically overhauling the country’s economy and society. Within this multifaceted modernization project, the state has placed creative cultural expressions and open leisure activities at its center, upsetting decades-long moral order and restricted urban life. The emphasis on the promotion of culture and entertainment presents puzzling observations. Why does a state that is increasingly authoritarian open up once heavily restricted spaces for cultural expression and public life? Why does a state heavily subsidize “upgrading the lifestyle” while actively downsizing its extensive welfare system?
The dissertation argues that the case of 21st-century modernization in Saudi Arabia represents a kind of modernization that is different from earlier development experiments (post-WWII developmentalism and nation-building projects), which I call “Globalized Modernization (GM).” GM, I argue, is an endeavor to proactively absorb globalization and reorganize social and cultural life to fit a “global normal.” In this proactive absorption, the making of the cosmopolitan citizenry and urban space is seen as a requirement for integration into the global market economy. Based on analysis of policy documents and interviews with state officials, the chapter outlines a descriptive account of such a project of cultural modernization and traces its discursive underpinnings.