Abadan: The Rise and Demise of an Oil Metropolis | Conflicting Imaginaries of Past and Future

To many Iranians, and particularly those in the diaspora, Abadan is remembered through nostalgic narratives that gloss over the gross inequalities, injustices and discrimination that marred the city under British influence and Pahlavi rule. In these romanticized narratives, Abadan’s past is framed as a near utopia of peaceful conviviality.

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Abadan: The Rise and Demise of an Oil Metropolis | Urban Politics of Oil and Modernity

The story of Abadan is entwined with the turbulent histories of modernity in Iran, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. From its foundation on a sandy island in the Shatt al-‘Arab River bordering Iran and Iraq on the eve of World War I, the city has been at the center of momentous events of global significance, shaped by imperialism, nation building and power struggles over oil. Middle East oil was first discovered in 1908 in the Zagros mountains of southwest Iran.

Abadan: The Rise and Demise of an Oil Metropolis | Kaveh Ehsani and Rasmus Christian Elling

In fall 1978, Abadan’s oil refinery workers played a decisive role in the Iranian Revolution by joining the national mass strikes. Just two years later, Abadan and the adjoining port city of Khorramshahr were shelled by the invading Iraqi army and effectively destroyed during the Iran–Iraq war (1980–88), which scattered their population of over 600,000 as refugees across Iran and abroad.

Abadan’s digital afterlife: past images and present pasts in Abadani virtual communities | Shireen Walton — ABADAN RETOLD

by Shireen Walton Originally published in ABADAN RETOLD This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. L.P Hartley, The Go-between, 1953 Conjuring Abadan online: the magic of technology However one attempts to understand the history of Abadan, images and nostalgia are clearly entry... Continue Reading →

Drawing the Lines: Spatial Politics of Coercion

  ON LINES AND FENCES: LABOUR, COMMUNITY AND VIOLENCE IN AN OIL CITY Rasmus Christian Elling Published in: Urban Violence in the Middle East       The horrible living conditions of most oil workers in the early days of the Concession are a well-known topic.[50] Indeed, the Company’s unwillingness or inability to provide adequate... Continue Reading →

ON LINES AND FENCES: LABOUR, COMMUNITY AND VIOLENCE IN AN OIL CITY

Rasmus Christian Elling Published in: Urban Violence in the Middle East Abadan refinery electrical shop foreman, Iran, 1945. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images In December 1942, unrest broke out in Abadan, arguably Iran’s first modern industrial city and home to the world’s biggest oil refinery. Two scuffles in the bazaar provoked Iranians from the... Continue Reading →

Production of Place as a Contested Process

Credit: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” Place is a social construct that both constitutes and is constituted by social relations (see chapter 1). The production of place and the interpretation of its... Continue Reading →

The Urban Process in Abadan 1929-1941

Credit: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” After highly protracted and contentious negotiations that began in 1928 the Iranian government granted a new 60-year oil concession to APOC in 1933. At one point... Continue Reading →

Successive Waves of Industrialization and Labor Activism

Credit: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” The history of industrialization in the interwar era can be roughly divided into two periods: 1919-1931 and 1931-1941. In the first period, the government facilitated and... Continue Reading →

Labor Activism in the interwar years

Credit: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” The consolidation of the oil complex brought with it new forms of labor activism among the industrial working class. The new collective political agency of the... Continue Reading →

Patching Together a Fragmented Provincial Geography with Guns and Oil

Credit: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)”   In 1924 the Prime Minister Reza Khan visited APOC installations at Abadan and the Fields and was received formally and with eager hospitality by the... Continue Reading →

Taking Stock of the State of Knowledge, Evaluating Sources, and What Remains to be Done

  Credit: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)”   The previous chapters have been heavily focused on the largely overlooked but formative early period of the assemblage of the oil complex and the... Continue Reading →

After the Honeymoon was Over: Urban Strife and the Social Question in post 1926 Abadan

  Credit: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” Most histories of this period have depicted the reasons behind the increasingly turbulent relationships between APOC and the Iranian Government between 1928-1933 as caused by... Continue Reading →

Illusions of Segregation: Servants and the Politics of Domestic Households

Credit: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” Illusions of Segregation: Servants and the Politics of Domestic Households As it turned out Greenhouse’s urgency in the autumn of 1925 had not been misplaced. The... Continue Reading →

The Politics of property in interwar Abadan

Credit: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)”   Who ‘owned’ this urban land? What was the meaning of property under these changing circumstances? Chapter 3 discussed the incongruence of different notions of property... Continue Reading →

Militant Particularism in Abadan

  Credit: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” The Company’s plan to evict residents and merchants, paying compensation to those who had some form of official property title (it is unclear how many... Continue Reading →

Sanitation, Segregation, and the Politics of Property in Abadan

Credit : Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)”     In February 1926 APOC medical director Dr. M. Young provided an assessment of the sanitary challenges facing the urban situation in Abadan: “Even... Continue Reading →

The Making of Skilled and Permanent Iranian Workers: Education, Discipline, and ‘Iranianization’

  AUTHOR: KAVEH EHSANI, LEIDEN UNIVERSITY   FROM “THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF LABOR IN THE IRANIAN OIL INDUSTRY : THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND THE MAKING OF THE INDUSTRIAL WORKING CLASS (1908-1941)” In the interwar years mass education of Iranian workers and their children became a pressing concern for APOC, and it entered its repertoire of reluctant... Continue Reading →

Labor Troubles in an Expanding Boomtown

 Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University   From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)”    Labor recruitment was a major challenge facing APOC, especially in the first two decades of its operation in Iran. The Company had to cast a... Continue Reading →

Labor and the Social Question in Interwar Abadan

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   As APOC’s operations kept expanding exponentially throughout the war years, the challenge of recruiting and maintaining an adequate labor force took on... Continue Reading →

Creating Enclaves; Setting Boundaries

    Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   The Oil Company, in particular, tried to carve out exclusive geographies by effectively denationalizing territories over which it could exercise its... Continue Reading →

The 1926 Turning Point: Oil Encounter in Abadan

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   The short decade after WWI witnessed the consolidation of the oil industry in Iran. The interlude was a revolutionary turning point on... Continue Reading →

The Social Life of Oil in the Wake of WWI and the Transition to Fordism

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   By mid-1920’s APOC was re-organizing into a new form of business organization, which four decades later David Lilienthal named the multi-national corporation[199].... Continue Reading →

The Rise to Prominence of Professional Middle Class Experts and their Impact on Corporate Culture and Governmental Social Policies

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   When in 1926 APOC undertook the task of re-configuring its operations in Khuzestan, the protracted and extensive discussion among its senior directors... Continue Reading →

Pluralism and Planning: The Impact of Political Franchise and Mass Politics

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   In the previous sections I have outlined the impact of public health measures, military conscription, the dramatic expansion of the labor market... Continue Reading →

Setting Oil Policy After the War

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   As one of Britain’s major petrochemical and primary industrial materials producers, the attitudes and praxis of APOC directors and experts were constantly... Continue Reading →

Housing and Urban Politics During WWI and After

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   In the predominantly working class Britain the increasingly prominent public role of labor and the sacrifices it was asked to make were... Continue Reading →

Oil Versus Coal: Warfare as Midwife of Change of Fuel Source

    Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   In 1911 the United States adopted oil-fired boilers for its new heavy warships. Britain also had begun searching for a sustainable... Continue Reading →

First World War: Total Warfare and the Remaking of Society and Economy

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   WWI transformed the world[46] by “mark[ing] a true watershed between the 19th and 20th centuries”, precipitating a social and economic revolution in... Continue Reading →

Sanitation and Segregation in the City

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   The politics of sanitation and public health did not create only an inclusive and universal dynamic of citizenship entitlement to a healthy... Continue Reading →

Contagion and the Politics of Prevention

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ] The question of contagious diseases and their root causes became a central preoccupation of urban life in 19th century European and colonial cities... Continue Reading →

Conclusion: From Formal to Real Subsumption to Oil Capitalism

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   Abadan’s urban environment had to be carved out of the existing social order, by first fragmenting and then reintegrating it into the... Continue Reading →

Making Abadan an Oil Town: 1911-1921

Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ] Khuzestan was one of the most impoverished and least urbanized areas of Iran, itself a desperately poor country at the turn of the 20th... Continue Reading →

An Empty Land and a People Without History!?

  Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ] In chapter one the functional importance to the discourse and practice of modernization of depicting the targeted area for development as desolate and... Continue Reading →

Preparing the Ground in Abadan: The ‘Contract” as Instrument of Dispossession

Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ] While the land agreements with the Bakhtiyaris were being drawn in Masjed Soleyman the Oil Company was also engaged in making a similar arrangement... Continue Reading →

The Political and Regional Context of Oil in 1920s and Shifting British Policy Toward Iran

Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   British policy toward Iran underwent significant reassessments throughout the 19th and through the first three decades of the 20th centuries, with fundamental repercussions... Continue Reading →

The Post War Landscape of Unanticipated Outcomes (1918-1926)

Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ] In the wake of WWI, for the first time, Britain appeared as the absolute master of the situation in Iran and the Persian Gulf[1].... Continue Reading →

The Role and Rule of Experts in Establishing the Oil Complex

Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ] While the initial D’Arcy Concession of 1908 was the product of crafty and remarkably amoral negotiations and deals between British and Iranian statesmen and... Continue Reading →

A Land Without People, and a People Without History? Making the Local Visible Again

Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ] The privileging of macro scales and meta-narratives of modernization and the nation state in the historiography of oil have tended to silence the lived... Continue Reading →

Abadan and the World: Conceptualizing a Relational Scalar Politics

Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ] The story of the Abadan bazaar opens a window into the interplay of the localnational-global forces that produced a new configuration of the oil... Continue Reading →

The New Oil Habitus in Post-War Abadan

Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   Small and local as this episode may appear, it encapsulated the emergence of a new habitus around the oil complex in Khuzestan. WWI... Continue Reading →

The New Bazaar of Abadan: Small Case, Big Story?

Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From “The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)” ]   In 1925-27 APOC decided to build a “properly planned, efficient, and sanitary” market place in a small area sandwiched between the refinery, the... Continue Reading →

The Urban Life of Oil: The Urban Process, the Built Environment, and Everyday Life in Abadan

Author: Kaveh Ehsani, Leiden University  [ From "The social history of labor in the Iranian oil industry : the built environment and the making of the industrial working class (1908-1941)" ] The human experiences surrounding the production of oil in Khuzestan took place in numerous distinct but interconnected spaces: There were the extractive places of... Continue Reading →

Boom & bust

Social engineering and the contradictions of modernization in Khuzestan's oil company towns, Abadan and Masjed-Soleyman Kaveh Ehsani The Iranian, February 15, 2005 This essay is a comparative study of the design and social impact of Abadan and Masjed-Soleyman, the first and most important oil towns built in Khuzestan by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC). The... Continue Reading →

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