Alienating Iranians from their environment : irrigation, flood control, and public health in late Pahlavi Khuzestan




Sitzes, Bryan Campbell

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This thesis explores the changing relationship between rural Iranians, the state, and the environment in the mid-20th century through a regional study of the province of Khuzestan, in southwestern Iran. This research differs from predominant histories of modernization in Iran by its use of an environmental historical framework and its focus on rural communities on the national periphery. Environmental history, as opposed to political, economic, intellectual, or feminist history, emphasizes the dynamic dialectical relationship between society and its environment, acknowledging the historical agency of the latter. Examining changes in the relationships between society, rivers, and disease (types of “socio-environmental” relationships) demonstrates how modernization projects affected social institutions and Iranian conceptions of nature. 20th century state initiatives degraded the existing relationship between society and environment in Khuzestan because of a modernist faith in humanity’s power over natural phenomena and a capitalist drive to replace traditional modes of labor with new jobs integrated into a global cash economy. Engineers designed plans for new canals and a massive modern dam that foremen and their professional crews built with over one million tons of concrete. Village health agents coerced residents into mass chemotherapy treatments while school officials experimented with the diets of schoolchildren to see what mixture of proteins might produce the healthiest citizens. These projects reveal a state faith in the ability of experts to control natural phenomena and successfully order society without input from local communities. Using corporate archival material, state reports, and anthropological studies, I tell the story of how the Development and Resources Corporation’s arrival in Khuzestan drastically altered socio-environmental dynamics, how the state enhanced its power and presence in villages, and the ambiguous response of villagers to these changes. The attractions of modern technologies and comfort commodities often came at the price of personal and communal autonomy. I argue that the DRC and the state altered traditional modes of incorporating nature into rural social structures. These organizations partially alienated Iranians from their natural environment by conceptualizing it as a resource to be completely controlled, for profit and national benefit, rather than accommodated for local needs and demands


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