The Association for Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Studies (AGAPS) is pleased to present its 2013 PhD Dissertation Award to Reem Alissa for her exceptional scholarship in, Building for Oil: Corporate Colonialism, Nationalism and Urban Modernity in Ahmadi, 1946–1992 (Architecture, University of California, Berkeley).
Building for Oil is a creative, original, and conceptually rich consideration of the relationships between oil, space, and urban architectural planning in mid to late twentieth century Kuwait. Incisively written and deeply layered, Alissa introduces readers to a complex set of forces through which Ahmadi’s history was made. In arguing for understanding Ahmadi’s history as that of an “oil city” Alissa directs us to see from multiple angles. Ahmadi’s urban modernity was influenced in various measures by the character and desires of its inhabitants as well as its would-be inhabitants, by the top-down visions of oil companies, politicians, and “neoliberal” developers. She incorporates Ahmadi as habitat and habitus as well as identifying particular persons, attitudes, practices, and events whose contributions were (and are) key to understanding how it has changed over time.
Alissa’s is a commanding demonstration of conceptual innovation and empirical rigor, and her accomplishment is striking. Her work breaks new ground for scholars of the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula by encouraging reflections on space, cities, design, architecture, how geographies are made historically, and the variety of social and political economic forces that produce the world we live. As historians and social scientists embark on the critical work of rethinking why and how oil matters, Alissa adds a fascinating new dimension to a theoretical body of scholarship that we might usefully call post-rentierism. Building for Oil productively and provocatively links what have for too long been disparate literatures on architecture, design, and the political economy of oil with careful ethnographic and oral history field-work. As such, it is a pioneering work and a fitting recipient of the AGAPS PhD Dissertation Award.