Marie Curie Fellow, Department of Social Anthropology


Project description

Leyla’s two-year postdoctoral research project will explore the construction of ‘oil city’ narratives in Baku, Azerbaijan. Baku is one of the earliest and historically most significant oil cities in the world. Having survived several cycles of boom and bust, Baku is unusual among the world’s oil cities as it has neither declined nor reinvented itself, but instead perpetuated its dependence on oil and continued to strengthen its identity as ‘the oil city’. While the latest bust is still ongoing, ‘oil city’ discourses remain strongly vocalized in both official and unofficial representations of the city.

The project will use a combination of ethnography and textual analysis to provide a detailed ethnographic analysis of how Baku’s oil city identity has been constructed and reproduced in official and unofficial discourses by variously positioned professionals involved in memory-making, either directly (museum workers and urban heritage activists) or indirectly (oil industry professionals; city planners; tour guides). The main research objectives are:

1) to examine the official and unofficial narratives of urban continuity based on oil production in their socio-cultural context;

2) to explore the practices of collective remembering and forgetting in constructing the narratives of Baku as a historical center of oil production;

3) to explore how an urban identity based on oil affects the imagination of a post-oil future among these groups.


Leyla is a native of Baku and she started her career in the oil industry there. She then went on to become a social scientist, and completed a BA in Conflict Studies at St. Petersburg State University (Russia) and PhD in Sociology at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey. Her PhD research, focused on the transformation of the engineering profession in post-Soviet Azerbaijan. The project thus brings together Leyla’s long term research interests in identity, urban change, and postsocialist industrial transformation. Leyla’s most recent postdoctoral  work at the University of Eastern Finland on the transformation of post-Soviet borders and transborder minorities helped her develop a deeper understanding of identity in social processes and equipped her with experience in textual analysis which will be used in this project.

Selected publications

Sayfutdinova, Leyla “Ethnic boundaries and territorial borders: on the place of Lezgin irredentism in the construction of national identity in Azerbaijan,” Nationalities Papers, (Forthcoming)

Ergun, Ayça, and Leyla Sayfutdinova. “Informal Practices in the Making of Professionals: The Case of Engineers in Soviet and Post-Soviet Azerbaijan.” Work, Employment and Society, 2020: 0950017020947581.

Sayfutdinova, Leyla. “Mapping the mobility of Azerbaijani Soviet engineers: linking West and East?” Labor History, 2018, 59(3), 316-330

Sayfutdinova, Leyla. “Negotiating Welfare with the Informalizing state: Formal and Informal Practices among Engineers in Post-Soviet Azerbaijan”, Journal of Eurasian Studies, 2015, 6/11, pp. 23-34

Sayfutdinova, Leyla. “The Alley of Martyrs: Deaths, Memory, and the Nation”. Caucasus Analytical Digest, 2014, No. 66, 30 October.