"The Stories We Tell" 2023 - Session 3

with Nelida Fuccaro, NYU Abu Dhabi, Radouan Andrea Mounecif, Sorbonne University

The stories we tell matter.

Oilmen, Petroleum Arabism and OPEC New Political and Public Cultures of Oil in the Arab world, 1959–1964

The Public Relation efforts of foreign controlled oil companies in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia started to make the industry visible to the public at home and abroad in a variety of incarnations: technology, infrastructure, public projects, employer, educator and even as a tourist amenity for prospective overseas employees. By branding its industrial entrepreneurship as spectacle and welfare, the company attempted to capture the attention, imagination and loyalty of people whose lives were increasingly exposed to and touched by the industry, either through employment, participation in national life, social advancement, or material culture. This talk will discuss how the oil industry and technology was portrayed in words and images popularised by companies’ magazines and official reports, in other words how the companies’ PR outreach started to expose the guts of the industry, seemingly lifting the veil of secrecy and aloofness that had surrounded oil’s technological zones in the Arab World.

Nelida Fuccaro is Professor of Middle Eastern History at NYU Abu Dhabi, formerly based at SOAS University of London. In the last few years she has researched the history of the social, material and visual cultures of oil and modernity in the Gulf, Iraq and Arabian Peninsula, and she has recently edited with Mandana Limbert a volume entitled Life Worlds of Middle Eastern Oil: Histories and Ethnographies of Black Gold (Edinburgh University Press, 2023). She is currently writing a monograph on oil cultures and societies in the Arab World. Her previous work focussed on port and oil cities, public violence, and on the interplay between ethnicity and nationalism in frontier societies. She is the author of The Other Kurds: Yazidis in Colonial Iraq (London: IB Tauris, 1999), Histories of City and State in the Persian Gulf: Manama since 1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2009, paperback 2011), the guest editor of the thematic contribution ‘Histories of Oil and Urban Modernity in the Middle East’ in Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (2013), the co-editor of Urban Violence in the Middle East (Berghahn, 2015), and the editor of Violence and the City in the Modern Middle East (Stanford University Press, 2016).

Black Gold Seekers: French oil companies in colonial and postcolonial Algeria. Workforce policies, circulation of knowledge and social identities (1945-1973)

The mastery of the oil exploration and production techniques has been an essential condition for the development of the French oil industry. Starting from this assumption, my presentation will explain how the workforce policies and the staff training programs have fostered the expansion of the oil sector, supporting the emergence of a new technical élite. If the lack of national energy policy has been one of the main causes of French industrial underdevelopment, the inauguration of a national oil exploration program in 1945 changed the situation. Thanks to the joint effort of the Compagnie Franaçaise des Pétroles (today TotalEnergies) and the French national oil authorities, several oil reservoirs were discovered in colonized Algeria in 1956. The emergence of the black gold seekers as a socio-professional group assured the exploitation of oil resources and supported the technological emancipation of the country. In less than two decades the French oilman working in the Sahara became the symbol of the energetic abundance and the new consumption era. Nevertheless, the Algerian War and the decolonization process deeply undermined the position of French companies during the 1960s. Only the implementation of new human resources management strategies guaranteed stability and a privileged access to foreign energy resources. In a period characterized by the industrial nationalizations that took place in the Arab countries and the 1973 oil shock, the local staff training programs fostered the emergence of a new form of cooperation between the oil companies and local governments. In this new phase, French engineer and technicians contributed to the circulation of knowledge and French oil technology all around the world.

Radouan Andrea Mounecif is a PhD in contemporary history at Sorbonne University and archivist in charge of Science Po institutional archives. Graduated MA in History and Political Sciences, he studied at Università degli Studi di Padova, Université Paris 8 and Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (Beirut) before continuing his specialization in Archival Science and Records Management. Formerly responsible of TotalEnergies Historical Archives, he worked in public libraries and private corporate archives as project manager in charge of the digital transformation and the valorization of the historical collections. His main area of research interest is related to Economic and Social History of Energy, History of Sciences and Technology and History of Consumption. His PhD thesis is titled “Black Gold Seekers: : French Oilmen from the Sahara to the World (1924-2003). Men, Knowledge and Representations” and will be published in 2024.

April 19th 2023 · 12H (CET)

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