This essay presents three snapshots of the historical politics of pipelines (oil, natural gas, and water) in Iran since the turn of the twentieth century in order to juxtapose the variegated power struggles around seemingly similar pieces of materials transport technology. Pipelines are not merely technological infrastructure; they transform social and spatial relations by altering land use, property relations, and patterns of work and consumption. The social history of pipelines is a paradoxical tale of the dispossession of local communities and their often coercive integration into wider national and global political economies. By connecting distant locales, pipelines allow the geography of one terminal point to be framed as a viable source of resource extraction and the other as the site of consumption, regardless of existing conditions. The reliability of this spatial connection between the terminals requires relentless and consistent maintenance, surveillance, and security along the route. Thus, whether pipelines traverse international borders or stay within national territories, they end up imposing the absolute sovereignty of a unified legal regime along the entire route. The nature of the politics of pipelines depends on whether this imposition is negotiated and participatory or coercive and exclusionary.

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