"A Beehive of Activity" : Labor and Leisure in Hashemite Baghdad, 1921 - 1958

By Andrew Alger
Submitted to Session P4894 (Maintaining Body and Mind in Modern Iraq, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries; Development; Education; Urban Studies;
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“A Beehive of Activity”: Labor and Leisure in Hashemite Baghdad, 1921 - 1958

This paper seeks to explore how physical education and outdoor activities conditioned the social production of space in Hashemite Baghdad. It contends that playing sports, working outdoors, and enjoying the city’s natural beauty were important ways in which Baghdadis enabled and otherwise participated in the city’s transformation from a city still bounded by its medieval walls in 1921 to a sprawling web of diverse neighborhoods on both sides of the Tigris in 1958. It draws on Baghdadis’ memoirs alongside medical and pedagogical writings about physical fitness and acculturation (Ar. tathqif) to determine how labor and leisure figured into the construction and inhabiting of new neighborhoods.

The point in using physical education and outdoor activities to talk about urban development is to expose the limitations of the top-down, national development framework through which the city’s growth was understood by international experts and the Iraqi Development Board. The Board tended to adopt the experts’ plans for urban development, and with these plans went a conceptualization of labor that originated in large part outside of the Iraqi context. The Board only came into existence during the last decade of Hashemite rule, but repeatedly staked claims in its annual reports to the prior thirty years’ of urban growth for the Hashemite monarchy. Its language of rational design principles and modern construction techniques obscured the fact that Baghdadis had built their own city and would continue to do so as demographic changes necessitated. Reading physical education and outdoor activities as part of a separate genealogy of labor in Hashemite Baghdad challenges this narrative of top-down developmentalism, through which the Hashemite period is commonly read.