International Conference on the Comparative Social Histories of Labour in the Oil Industry

13 June 2013 to 16 June 2013
IISH, Amsterdam

The International Institute of Social History (IISH) organizes a conference to be held from 13 until 16 June 2013 in Amsterdam on the comparative social histories of labour in the oil industry. The conference is part of the larger project Labour in the Iranian Oil Industry* at the IISH, which is supported by the Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research (NWO).

This conference aims to pull together the work of scholars who situate labour and the social, political, and cultural dimensions of oil at the centre of their analysis. The conference is conceived as a comparative look at the social history of oil workers, so our invitation is going out to scholars whose work has pioneered original research, archival investigation, or anthropological and sociological field research into how labour relations and experiences have contributed and shaped the emergence of this global extractive industry.
This two day conference is tentatively organized around 4 general panels, which are meant to help provide a framework for organizing presentations around inter related themes. These panels are around the themes of:

• migration and labour process
• formation of class and other social and cultural identities
• social and political agency, organizations, and mobilizations
• the built environment and the urban life of labour

The final versions of the papers presented at this conference will be published in an edited volume, which will open up an important, but significantly overlooked dimension of the oil complex. The organizers are delighted to have assembled scholars from a range of disciplines whose work will shed light on the historical and contemporary experience of oil workers in a number of key oil producing regions that include Latin America, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Europe and Africa.

Scholars who are interested to take part in this conference are requested to:

• provide a working title and a brief abstract by 1 February 2013.
• provide a working paper, describing original work to be circulated among all conference participants by 13 April 2013.

The International Institute of Social History covers the travel expenses and arranges the accommodation in Amsterdam.


For further information, please contact:
Touraj Atabaki (
Kaveh Ehsani (


Labour in the Iranian Oil Industry*
As the world's most important source of energy, the Middle East has emerged as the key to the stability of global economy. With over 9% of the globe's oil reserves and 15%-17% of worldwide reserves of natural gas, the hydrocarbons resources of the Persian Gulf's most populous state are crucial to future world energy supply. Iran claims to hold the world's second-largest proven reserves (131bn barrels) after Saudi Arabia (264.2bn barrels). Iran's geopolitical importance in the region and its strategic contribution to the global energy markets can by no means be underestimated. It is, therefore, crucial to understand historical dynamism of the oil industry in Iran.
The discovery of oil in Iran in 1908 created new social, political, economic and even cultural realities at local, national, regional and international levels. Now a century on, Iran's geopolitical role and significance continue to grow. In many fundamental ways, the commodity oil, and those producing it, has played a central role in shaping a model of development, of social mores and behaviours, of political and social relations in Iran, and beyond.
The Project
The main objective of this project is to develop an empirical and qualitative understanding of labour as well as labour force in the Iranian oil industry.
The project aims to study different areas such as the formation of the work force, the emergence and development of industrial towns, the daily lives of the workforce, gender and ethnic relations, labour activism and organisation, class consciousness, the role of ideology, the relationship between the workforce, the company and the state, industrial relations etc.
A series of workshops will be organized in order to stimulate research on these topics and provide a space for researchers to develop, discuss and share their ideas.
The first workshop deals with four topics :
1) Historiography of Labour in Iran
The purpose of this session is to discuss conceptualisation, theorisation and methodology in the study of labour in Iran.
2) The Formation of the Working Class in the Oil Industry
The main questions posed in this session are: how did the labour force came into existence in the oil industry? How and in what ways did its composition change over time? The issues of recruitment, training and discipline are of special importance in this context.
3) Labour Activism and Organisation
This session is about formal and informal labour activism in the oil sector. We want to look into the early emergence of labour organizations and their gradual development into professional local, regional and national trade unions. Of special interest are their endeavours for better working and living conditions and their contribution to wider social and political movements such as the nationalisation of the oil industry and the revolution of 1978-82.
4) The Role of Ideology
This session deals with the ideological orientation of the state and the workers in the oil industry. The evaluation of the influence of socialist, nationalist and Islamist ideas among oil workers is the main topic in this session.
For more information on thje project, please contact Prof. Touraj Atabaki,


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