Date of Award

December 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Whitney Moon

Second Advisor

Anna Andrzejewski

Committee Members

Arijit Sen, Jasmine Benyamin, Joseph Rodriguez


Colonial City, Company Town, Extractive Economies, Modernism, Oil Urbanism, Urban Modernity


The discovery of oil in Masjed Soleyman in 1908, which prompted the foundation of the Anglo Persian Oil Company and the construction of a massive refinery in Abadan Island, sparked astonishing industrial and urban development in the region. Within a span of fifty years following the discovery of oil, Abadan developed from a sparsely populated rural landscape to a modern oil boomtown. However, as commodities were extracted from below the ground, the architecture and planning of the landscape above ground reflected both ideologies of discrimination and hierarchies of economic and political domination. Located at the intersection of oil and space, this dissertation examines the socio-spatial transformations of the southwestern Iranian landscape, particularly Abadan, during the first half of the twentieth century. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach this research focuses on a history of the relationships between oil, architecture, and urban modernity in Abadan and how people remember that history today. The dissertation examines how the modern oil-driven transformations of the landscape under the control and management of the British-owned oil company influenced the everyday lived experience of the local population through the Urban, Architecture, and Human scales of the city. The examination of the refinery city of Abadan through the overlapping concepts of the company town and the colonial city reveals how the Company’s dominance-dependence urbanization/modernization and subtle social engineering practices socially and spatially segregated and marginalized most of the local population in the specific peripheral zones, while also offering them a class-driven view of modernity. As one of the many oil company towns constructed in Iran during the first half of the twentieth century, Abadan served as a persuasive instrument for the Company and its Western architects and planners to impose Western cultural values, artifacts, products, and authoritarian structures upon the subaltern or the local population. One of the main contributions of this dissertation is highlighting the ambivalent and complicated relationship between history and memories of Abadan.

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