An Extractive Science? Complicated Industries and Crude Natures


221 hectares of hydrocarbon-contaminated soil reimagined as a promissory garden bed. The renaturalisation and bioremediation of Qara Şəhər (Black City) –a historic industrial district of Baku, Azerbaijan–, was launched by state and corporate investors in 2011. The intended outcome of the ten-year project was the creation of Ağ Şəhər (White City), an eco-urban hybrid, which would signal the return of nature to a space that had been otherwise designated an unsalvageable wasteland. With the fast-paced demolition of petrochemical facilities, the introduction of biodiverse and exotic plant life, as well as the implementation of carbon neutral policies, state actors and environmental scientists alike celebrated the apparent liberation of the city from its toxic legacies – not only of crude oil contaminants, but also Soviet subjugation and widespread state corruption. Arguing against this neat narrative, the paper will make the case that, via processes of gentrification, the displacement of marginal communities, and the destruction of ruderal ecologies, remediation has actually continued the work of extractive capitalism in Baku. Furthermore, many of the greening projects have required the expertise and financial support of the oil industry, complicating the relationship between extractivism and environmentalism in both the capital city and the wider region of the Caucuses. Through examining collaborations between environmental scientists and oil corporations like SOCAR and BP, the paper will comment on the close entanglement between the extractive industry and scientific knowledge production. It will finish by pivoting towards local community practices –of backyard 'neft' gardens, seed care, and informal waste collection–, which seek to intercept the above-mentioned relationships and envision toxic land otherwise.


Creative Commons Licence


Contributed date

September 8, 2021 - 3:58am

Critical Commentary

Abstract by ZsuzsannaDominika Iharsubmitted to the 4S 2021 Panel Toxic Goodness: Harmful Legacies, Hopeful Futures

Group Audience

Cite as

Zsuzsanna Dominika Ihar, "An Extractive Science? Complicated Industries and Crude Natures", contributed by Duygu Kasdogan, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 8 September 2021, accessed 19 August 2022.