Hassi Messaoud Oil Urbanism
New Geographies 6: Grounding Metabolism, 2014

Project Team:
El Hadi Jazairy + Rania Ghosn
Alexandra Chen

“Closely following the oil,” as Timothy Mitchell suggests, means “tracing the connections that were made between pipelines and pumping stations, refineries and shipping routes, road systems and automobile cultures, dollar flows and economic knowledge, weapons experts and militarism”– all of which, as Mitchell says, do not respect the boundaries between the material and the ideal, the political and the cultural, the natural and the social. For the modern Algerian state, closely following the oil takes you to Hassi Messaoud. The genealogy of Hassi Messaoud’s statuses embodies the different territorial agendas in which resource metabolism was enmeshed in the state’s projects of population, economy, and security. The sociopolitical contradictions between the reproduction of resources and the reproduction of the population and workers become negotiated in the space of resource urbanism. In the early years of oil development, the state favored a strategy of territorial exceptionalism to control the implementation of an idealized industrial site. From a de-territorialized site, Hassi Messaoud was gradually grounded in territorial population dynamics. Politically represented, the residents of the town of Hassi Messaoud represent a threat of potentially claiming a larger share of the resource revenues. The project for the New Town of Hassi Messaoud is a displacement of the contradictions at stake on the ground by displacing the population, the dissociated attribute from the territory, as defined above.