Rasmus Christian Elling

Rasmus Christian Elling

Associate Professor

Current research

My work focuses on the cultural, social and political life (and, occasionally, death) of cities - and on the social history of modern Iran in particular. My key interests are:

  • urban and historical sociology, global urban history, comparative urban studies, spatial politics and radical theories of the city;
  • cultural and social studies of oil, petro-capitalism and infrastructure (energy humanities); 
  • nationalism, regionalism and localism, including ethnicity and municipal politics.

For more than 20 years, I have studied in and done research on Iran.

In conjunction with the collaborative historical research project 'Urban Violence in the Middle East' (SOAS, London, 2011-2012), I studied the connection between collective violence and urban space in the oil city of Abadan. This focus then developed into a larger project on the urban history of Abadan - a project for which I have recently been awarded a grant. Together with my innovative, multi-media history project Abadan:Retold, this research has been covered by CNN, The Guardian and other media outlets. 

The Abadan research has led me to explore broader questions of oil, modernity, culture and the built environment in Iran, which is an ongoing theme of research.

My first book was a political sociology of ethnicity and nationalism in post-revolutionary Iran. In this book, I focused on the large ethnic groups on Iran's geographical periphery, and their relation to the state and public intellectuals. I have since followed up on these topics with case studies in various aspects of identity politics in modern Iran, including Islamism/nationalism and regionalism. For the Abadan project, I have investigated the role of ethnicity in the coercive structures of the British-controlled oil industry.

My second book (due spring 2019) is a Danish-language modern history of Iran. I am also conducting research on urban culture, history, society and politics in Tehran.

I am the convener of Global Urban Studies - a Master's Elective at TORS, which among other things encompasses international summer schools on 'Urban Culture in Theory and Action' and 'Cultural Production and Urban Space' (and, earlier, 'New Urban Life Across the Globe: Activism and Change in a World of Cities').

For the Spring term 2019, I will teach 'Global Urban Studies: Cultural Analysis in a World of Cities' as well as Theory of Science for students of Middle East Studies and a translation course for students of Persian language.

Finally, I'm a member of the International Advisory Board for the Global Urban History Project and a peer reviewer for leading journals in the fields of Middle East Studies and Urban Studies.


Ongoing projects (working titles, 2019): 

“The Many Lives of Hotel International, Tehran” (article) with Parham Karimi

“Oil Labour and Empire in WWII Occupied Iran” (article) with Rowena Abdul Razak

“Ethnicity, Language and Identity: Findings from the Iran Social Survey” (report) with Kevan Harris 

“Tehran 1999” (book)

“Abadan: Oil Urbanism and Iranian Modernity” (book)


Read more on my website and on Academia.edu.

Fields of interest

Cities, urban space, urban history, spatial politics, geography;

Ethnicity, nationalism, identity, ideology;

Capitalism, oil, energy humanities;

Iran, Central Asia, the Middle East;

Language, semantics.

Primary fields of research

Urban studies.

Ethnicity, nationalism and identity.

Oil, energy humanities.


Have taught following courses:

BA-level: Elementals of Persian Language; Persian, verbal communication; Communicative Persian; Persian-Danish translation; Danish-Persian translation; Iran's History in Overview with Methodology; Afghanistan and Central Asia's Modern History; Writing Seminar (BA/MA).

MA-level: Structure and Change in the History of the Modern Middle East; Minorities in the Middle East; Political and Economic Systems in the Middle East; Subculture, counterculture and minorities in Iran; Totalitarianism and the Middle East; The Anthropology and Sociology of the Middle East;  Global Urban Studies; Urban Culture in Theory and Action.

Can supervise BA and MA students interested in the modern politics, societies and cultures of the Middle East and Central Asia as well as students interested in urban sociology and urban politics globally.

ID: 32150340