Cover of Unruly Labor by Andrea Wright
Unruly Labor
A History of Oil in the Arabian Sea
Andrea Wright

October 2024
312 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503632578
Paperback ISBN: 9781503639423



In the mid-twentieth century, the Arabian Peninsula emerged as a key site of oil production. International companies recruited workers from across the Middle East and Asia to staff their expanding oil projects. Unruly Labor considers the working conditions, hiring practices, and, most important, worker actions and strikes at these oil projects. It illuminates the multiple ways workers built transnational solidarities to agitate for better working conditions, and how worker actions informed shifting understandings of rights, citizenship, and national security.

Andrea Wright highlights the increasing associations between oil, governance, and racialized management practices to map how labor was increasingly depoliticized. From the 1940s to 1971, a period that includes the end of formal British imperialism in the Arabian Sea and the development of new state governments, citizenship became both an avenue for workers to advocate for their rights and, simultaneously, a way to limit other solidarities. Examining the interests of workers, government officials, and oil company managers alike, Wright offers a new history of Middle Eastern oil and twentieth-century capitalism—a history that illuminates how labor management and national security concerns have shaped state governance and economic policy priorities.

About the author

Andrea Wright is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Asian & Middle Eastern Studies at William & Mary. She is the author of Between Dreams and Ghosts: Indian Migration and Middle Eastern Oil (Stanford, 2021).

"Unruly Labor offers a highly original, meticulously researched account of the lifeworlds of oil workers across South Asia, Iran, and the Arabian Peninsula. Andrea Wright illuminates labor as a crucial force that shaped twentieth-century notions of nationalism, class, and social justice."

—Peyman Jafari, William & Mary

"This is a beautifully written and fascinating account of labor action, solidarity, as well as fragmentation. Reading archival sources with an ethnographer's eye, Andrea Wright brings to life the connections and struggles of managers, officials, and workers that shaped the social worlds and hierarchies of the oil industry."

—Mandana Limbert, CUNY Graduate Center