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Putting the Concession to Work: Anglo-Iranian Oil and the 1932-33 Concession Crisis

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Abstract:

My paper uses archival research in Tehran and Abadan, Iran, and the United Kingdom to examine the role of oil in the 1932-33 concession dispute between the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC now BP) and the Iranian government over the terms of its 1901 oil concession. The goal is to understand how relations between nature, technology, and politics reconfigured the local politics of the oil regions (southwest Iran) that in turn shaped both the formation of the national state and the building of a multinational oil corporation.

How does oil get transformed into profits? What kinds of technical arrangements, human forces, political powers, distribution systems, forms of expertise, and coercive mechanisms does oil require? The paper answers these questions by following the working out of Iran’s concessionary dispute, which has been underplayed in the historiography. With the exception of Thomas Hughes’ (1983) investigation of the electricity industry, historians do not typically follow the role of technical devices such as a formula or the terms of a concession to understand events such as the building of an industry and the kinds of socio-techno-political worlds they help construct. A major premise of the paper is that the physical and technical properties of oil and its management are internal to social and political factors that shape the world of oil.

By bringing the methods of science and technology studies to the history of Iranian oil, the paper investigates how technology becomes a field of political contestation leading to new techno-social transformations. I argue that the oil concession worked as a technique of intervention and representation in the dispute for British oil managers, government officials on both sides, and the oil workers with conflicting interests at stake. I track the ways in which the oil was manufactured by the concession’s terms in the form of a royalty formula that in turn served as a calculative device in order to organize the oil industry and manage this controversy to AIOC’s advantage. This includes technical formulas for pricing oil and geological and chemical measurements for calculating the behavior of oil and life-span of the oil field.

Thus the paper considers whether taking seriously the technical concerns about the concessionary crisis, such as the political construction of a royalty formula, significantly alters the way we understand the nature of oil production, state formation, and empire. While building on methodologies from Actor Network Theory, the paper critiques studies of financial formulas that remain narrowly focused on the financial engineering context of their construction and ignore the larger connections to politics. The paper concludes that the nature and powers of the state, and of the corporation were shaped internally or in relation to one another, in the continuous battle over terms, formulas, and profit calculations. This approach has consequences not only for our understanding of the formation of petro-states and other large-scale technical systems, but also the work of non-human actors when we open up the kinds of socio-technical connections, as I am proposing to do, to more careful examination.
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Name: 4S Annual Meeting - Abstract and Session Submissions
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http://www.4sonline.org


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p372517_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Shafiee, Katayoun. "Putting the Concession to Work: Anglo-Iranian Oil and the 1932-33 Concession Crisis" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 4S Annual Meeting - Abstract and Session Submissions, Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Crystal City, VA, Oct 28, 2009 <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p372517_index.html>

APA Citation:

Shafiee, K. , 2009-10-28 "Putting the Concession to Work: Anglo-Iranian Oil and the 1932-33 Concession Crisis" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 4S Annual Meeting - Abstract and Session Submissions, Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Crystal City, VA <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p372517_index.html

Publication Type: Paper Abstract
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: My paper uses archival research in Tehran and Abadan, Iran, and the United Kingdom to examine the role of oil in the 1932-33 concession dispute between the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC now BP) and the Iranian government over the terms of its 1901 oil concession. The goal is to understand how relations between nature, technology, and politics reconfigured the local politics of the oil regions (southwest Iran) that in turn shaped both the formation of the national state and the building of a multinational oil corporation.

How does oil get transformed into profits? What kinds of technical arrangements, human forces, political powers, distribution systems, forms of expertise, and coercive mechanisms does oil require? The paper answers these questions by following the working out of Iran’s concessionary dispute, which has been underplayed in the historiography. With the exception of Thomas Hughes’ (1983) investigation of the electricity industry, historians do not typically follow the role of technical devices such as a formula or the terms of a concession to understand events such as the building of an industry and the kinds of socio-techno-political worlds they help construct. A major premise of the paper is that the physical and technical properties of oil and its management are internal to social and political factors that shape the world of oil.

By bringing the methods of science and technology studies to the history of Iranian oil, the paper investigates how technology becomes a field of political contestation leading to new techno-social transformations. I argue that the oil concession worked as a technique of intervention and representation in the dispute for British oil managers, government officials on both sides, and the oil workers with conflicting interests at stake. I track the ways in which the oil was manufactured by the concession’s terms in the form of a royalty formula that in turn served as a calculative device in order to organize the oil industry and manage this controversy to AIOC’s advantage. This includes technical formulas for pricing oil and geological and chemical measurements for calculating the behavior of oil and life-span of the oil field.

Thus the paper considers whether taking seriously the technical concerns about the concessionary crisis, such as the political construction of a royalty formula, significantly alters the way we understand the nature of oil production, state formation, and empire. While building on methodologies from Actor Network Theory, the paper critiques studies of financial formulas that remain narrowly focused on the financial engineering context of their construction and ignore the larger connections to politics. The paper concludes that the nature and powers of the state, and of the corporation were shaped internally or in relation to one another, in the continuous battle over terms, formulas, and profit calculations. This approach has consequences not only for our understanding of the formation of petro-states and other large-scale technical systems, but also the work of non-human actors when we open up the kinds of socio-technical connections, as I am proposing to do, to more careful examination.


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