Air Pollution, Toxicity, and Environmental Politics in the History of Iranian Oil Nationalisation

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Mattin Biglari is a Research Associate and Teaching Fellow at SOAS. His research focuses on the intersection of energy, environment, infrastructure and labour, especially in the history of Iran and the Middle East. His doctoral thesis, which was awarded the 2021 BRISMES Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize for best PhD dissertation, examines the technopolitics of Iranian oil nationalisation, especially focusing on expertise, labour and anti-colonialism in Abadan. His monograph based on this thesis entitled Refining Knowledge: Labour, Politics and Oil Nationalisation in Iran, 1933-51 will be published with Edinburgh University Press in 2023.

Mattin has also published about banditry in Iran during the early twentieth century, examining its relationship to the country’s constitutional revolution and integration into the capitalist world economy. He has also written an article in Diplomatic History about how perceptions of Shi’a Islam shaped U.S. foreign policy during the 1978-79 Iranian revolution.

Mattin completed his PhD in History at SOAS in 2020. Previously he attained an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS and a BA in History at the University of Cambridge.

Abstract: As we witness the increasingly visible effects of the global climate emergency, it is paramount that the study of the environment is better integrated into the social sciences and humanities. This is especially so in the case of Iran, where the recent drying up of rivers in the province of Khuzestan has caused water scarcity for the local population and led to subsequent political mobilisation. Yet it is also vital to consider less spectacular forms of environmental degradation that equally afflict the country today, particularly air pollution, which presents one of the world’s greatest health challenges and each year contributes to over 8 million deaths globally. This talk will turn attention to the toxicity of air pollution to illuminate its relationship to embodied subjectivity, (in)visibility, temporality and infrastructure, especially with reference to the politics of Iran’s oil nationalisation in 1951. By focusing on subaltern experiences in the oil refinery town of Abadan, it will offer an alternative account to challenge dominant nationalist narratives of this important episode in the country’s history. In doing so, it connects the modern history of Iran to a burgeoning body of work in the environmental and energy humanities that highlights the relationship between global pollution and imperialism in the Middle East and wider Global South.