[P2348] New Histories of Oil and Urban Modernity in Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Iran

Created by Nelida Fuccaro
Saturday, 11/20/10 02:30pm


This panel proposes a fresh approach to the study of the impact of oil on the socio-economic, political, spatial and architectural organisation of urban environments. By bringing together selected case studies of early oil cities and company towns in Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Iran it presents new ethnographies of urban space, governance and society. Based on a wide variety of documentary and visual materials, these papers illustrate both the micro and macro levels of those processes of change which are usually dealt with under the generic rubric of 'oil urbanisation'. Not only does the ethnographic and historical approach adopted in the papers seek to situate cities, urban environments and residents centre stage of the study of oil polities, but also to challenge mainstream assumptions and approaches to the history of oil development, state-society relations and urban milieus.
So far literature on oil development has been largely dominated by the classic rentier-state theory. Its focus on macro-economic aspects and on the redistributive power of the state has posed serious limitations to our understanding of more localised political, social and cultural histories of oil. The ways in which these histories became enshrined in the evolution of urban milieus in the first decades after the beginning of oil production is a central concern of this panel. Of particular importance in this respect is how oil mediated the emergence of urban modernity across the region variously defined in relation to the transformation of urban and architectural spaces, lifestyles, political practices and alliances, and symbols of national culture and identity.
Turning to the scanty historical literature on urban change and urban development under the shadow of oil, the case studies presented in this panel question the static paradigm of 'Oil City' which has in many respects emerged as a corollary of rentier-state approaches . This paradigm construes urban milieus as a 'passive' recipient of rentier-state economies, the monopolistic policies of oil companies and emerging authoritarian regimes. While highlighting common trends, these papers provide a more nuanced reading of urban experiences across the region with an eye to comparative approaches not constrained by outmoded ideal types. In this respect, the aim is to provide new insights into the eclectic transformative power of oil as an agent of historical and urban change at a crucial junction of the history of these oil producing countries.





Nelida Fuccaro

(NYU Abu Dhabi)
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant; Organizer;

Reem Alissa

(Kuwait University)
Reem Alissa is an assistant professor at Kuwait University’s College of Architecture in the Department of Architecture. She is trained as an architect, landscape architect, urban designer and urban historian. She has a Master of Architecture from Tulane...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;