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Centre for Persian and Iranian Studies: Visiting Speaker: Dr Mattin Biglari

Please join us in person for this talk. NEW/COL- Collaborative LT 17.00- 19.00

Refining Knowledge: Labour, Technopolitics and Epistemic Struggle in Iran’s Oil Nationalisation

Event details

Refining Knowledge: Labour, Technopolitics and Epistemic Struggle in Iran’s Oil Nationalisation

Iran’s nationalisation of oil in 1951 is popularly championed as an important episode of anti-colonialism in the Middle East. Expelling the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) half a century after the infamous D’Arcy concession, conventional narratives have argued it heralded an era when governments across the region (and Global South, more generally) increasingly wrested control of natural resources from foreign corporations and states. But how does our understanding of this event change when it is examined beyond elites such as Mosaddeq, instead foregrounding subaltern experiences in the country’s oil producing areas?

Drawing on archival sources from Iran, the UK and US, in addition to Persian-language newspapers, oral histories and memoirs, this paper reassesses Iranian oil nationalisation by showing how it reproduced the epistemologies of the very oil company it expelled. By focusing on everyday life in the oil city of Abadan in the years leading up to oil nationalisation, it argues that workers, students and local residents not only made this important event possible, but also diverged from elite actors in their critique of colonial modernity. These struggles played out in quotidian spaces such as the refinery, schools and the street, and highlighted the politics inherent in the seemingly ‘technical’ domains of infrastructure and scientific expertise. Nevertheless, the paper shows how practices on the ground became translated into the sphere of the dominant political discourse, such that nationalisation helped give rise to colonial afterlives – epistemic, racial and environmental – in the years ahead.

Bio: Mattin Biglari is a Postdoctoral Fellow at SOAS, University of London. His research focuses on the intersection of labour, infrastructure and environment, especially in Iran and the Middle East. He has wider interests in connecting STS, energy/environmental humanities, and postcolonial studies. His monograph, titled Refining Knowledge: Labour, Politics and Oil Nationalisation in Iran, 1933-51, will be published with Edinburgh University Press in 2023. This focuses on labour and expertise in the history of Iran’s oil nationalisation in 1951, especially everyday experiences in the refinery town of Abadan. He was the joint winner of the 2021 BRISMES Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize for best PhD dissertation in Middle East Studies from a UK university. He is also a member of the Oil Cultures of the Middle East and Latin America (OCMELA) working group.


Newman Collaborative Lecture Theatre (C/D)