Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Infrastructural Development, National Modernity, and the State in Cold War Iran, 1941-1997

This project examines the effects of large-scale infrastructural projects on practices of statecraft and experiences of national modernity in Iran during the Cold War through the early decades of the Islamic Republic (1941-1997). It specifically examines three interdependent resource development projects of (1) hydroelectric dam construction, (2) oil and petrochemical industrial expansion, and (3) agricultural mechanization in the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan. Through archival research, oral histories, and the analysis of cultural production, this research focuses on how large-scale infrastructural projects aimed at resource development in Iran have shaped the conditions of possibility for the exertion of state power, its political contestation, and fantasies and anxieties about the future. It suggests that bringing water, land, and oil within one analytical and historical frame can shed light on how the technonatural transformation of Iran during the Cold War mediated the relationship between the state and its subjects, and in turn shaped the experiences and expectations of national modernity. Studying the ways that large-scale infrastructures remade nature and nation, and evoked imaginaries, affects, and visions of past, present and future, highlights the material and symbolic forms and processes through which state power shapes and is manifested in everyday life. The historical socio-natural remaking of Iran also illuminates how multi-scalar politics, including the geopolitics of the Cold War, shape infrastructural development, the exigencies of national economic development, and daily interactions with the state. This project further contributes to historical and anthropological studies of the state and infrastructure in the Middle East and bridges two sets of often disparate Iran-related scholarship: historical studies of experiences of modernity during the Cold War and scholarship on state formation and nationalism.