This research project will explore the construction of ‘oil city’ narratives in Baku, Azerbaijan. Baku is one of the earliest and historically most significant oil cities in the world. Despite this important legacy, there has been little scholarly attention to the ideological and cultural meanings of oil in different urban milieus. Addressing this gap in scholarship, this study aims to deepen scholarly understanding of the constitution of oil urbanism and its implications for post-oil future. The development of many cities that are linked to oil production is dependent upon the economic cycles of boom and busts of the industry. Typically, oil cities rapidly grow during a boom, and decline during a bust. Few cities are able to reinvent themselves after a bust, either by diversifying their economies or assuming the role of a technological hub for the industry. Baku is unusual among the world's oil cities, as it neither declined nor reinvented itself, but has perpetuated its dependence on oil for the last 150 years and continued to strengthen its identity as ‘the oil city’.
Using a combination of ethnography and textual analysis, this study aims to provide a detailed ethnographic analysis of how Baku’s oil city identity has been constructed and reproduced in official and unofficial discourses by variously positioned professionals involved in memory-making, either directly (museum workers and urban heritage activists) or indirectly (oil industry professionals; city planners; tour guides). The main research objectives are: 1) to examine the official and unofficial narratives of urban continuity based on oil production in their socio-cultural context 2) to explore the practices of collective remembering and forgetting in constructing the narratives of Baku as a historical center of oil production and 3) to explore how an urban identity based on oil affects the imagination of a post-oil future among these groups.
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