We live in turbulent times, and the role of petroleum is at the heart of global and local political debate. Indeed, a transition to a world without oil as its primary source of fuel and energy is needed if we want to reach the international climate targets, but the feasibility, realism and not least timing is strongly debated. Oil will indeed come to an end, but whether the closing date is set by emptied reservoirs, greener alternatives, or political decisions, is still to be determined. Recognizing that the “age of oil” is being challenged, petrocultures2020 invites scholars and artists, journalists and activists, politicians and business actors to critically engage in the debate and the alternatives. The conference will be held at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum and a nearby conference venue in Stavanger, the energy capital of Norway.
In petrocultures2020 we will host presentations, exhibits and conversations regarding the transformations needed to influence the transition from our current culture and dependency on oil. Looming over these discussions we recognize the wealth and progress enabled by our exploitation and use of oil. We acknowledge the technical and structural solutions developed and renewable transitions initiated by parts of the petroleum industry. We also observe the linkages that exist between the burning of fossil fuels, human induced climate change and differing levels of socio-environmental conflict. We thus emphasize oil’s dual role as the basis of prosperity and implication in environmental destruction and global conflict. Accepting this we aim to create a forum for a constructive exchange about the way green transition initiatives are narrated – including the way oil is narrated in the past, present and future – across social and political divides. It is also of interest to investigate how the petroleum industry can/will be a part of this transition, and what consequences the transition will have for the workers presently depending on the industry. Worker participation in the industry has historically and may well also in the future be a central aspect to reduce the inherent conflicts of a transition.
Under the banners of 5 thematic sections, petrocultures2020 seeks to advance conversations about the multiple dimensions of oil. We do so, recognizing that oil is not only as a source of energetic power, but of political, economic and social power. It is in this light we question oil’s significance and remaining power in an era of impending transformation.
oil:narratives. From fairy tales to curses, from celebratory tales of pioneers to dismal accounts of victims, oil has inspired contrasting narratives around the world. These encompass origins, belonging, identity, progress and development, for oil has been rendered in ways that matter to not only oil companies and governments, but to most people on the planet. It has helped found our world and continues to modulate it, establishing not only the present of the people of the world, but also their past and future. This section invites scholars to engage with oil as a catalyst for narratives that have framed nations, corporations, groups and individuals. We seek contributions that grapple with the forms that narratives take around oil, that ponder how they shape history and the ways in which they shape imaginaries of post-petroleum worlds.
oil:nature. Oil has served as the main catalyst for the 20th century’s economic growth and exploitation of natural resources. Oil has re-defined our relationship to and understanding of the nature-culture divide. Extractive frontiers have continuously expanded, inspiring the recent scientific proposal that we are now living in a new geological epoch in which humans have left an indelible impact on the planet i.e. the Anthropocene. In this section we invite papers and presentations that seek to explore this symbolic proposal and the possibility of it signalling the need for a profound change in human-nature relations. We wish to encourage thought and discussion of its impacts on personal identity, and ramifications for how we address pollution, social justice, public health and rights to land, water streams and seascapes.
oil:conflict. Numerous historical and contemporary events – from the Chaco War to recent Saudi bombings in Yemen – remind us that oil has been and remains a catalyst of conflicts. International wars, civil war, criminal violence and varying forms of socio-environmental contestation are linked to control of oil production, indicating oil’s influence across scales and temporalities. We invite scholars to reopen and reframe taken-for-granted assumptions about the resource curse, and to consider anew the significance of oil in geopolitics, economic development and alliances over extractive energy sources. We provide a space for scholars who work on violent contexts and aim to attract analysts who focus on the dynamics of militancy and alternative forms of socio-political and legal action to question oil governance. While inviting papers that reveal the inner workings of large-scale conflicts, we also anticipate papers that unpack how social movements and community campaigns oppose, benefit and tame oil production and exploration – frequently in the face of repressive prosecution and potential assassination.
oil:work. While scholarship on the petroleum industry is vast, research on oil workers and their communities is rather limited. Yet, oil workers are intrinsic to an understanding of oil cultures as well as the politics of oil. Their history is as old and tortuous as the history of commodified oil, hence this section invites papers that analyse the embedding of labour histories of oil in wider global histories of labour. On the one hand, oil workers are relatively few and difficult to organise, considering the economic and technological intensity of the petroleum industry and the physical infrastructure, on the other, oil workers and their organisations have played important roles in democratic transitions and economic struggles. Papers on all kinds of cultural and political expression of oil, work and workers are welcome, as are those that tackle how oil workers constitute themselves as groups and in trade unions, how their work schedules influence their social lives, and how their trade interacts with their situated social status. We open for discussions and exploration on the role of workers in the petroleum industries in a green transition.
oil:visions invites all papers that plumb visions of the cultural and historical transformations wrought by the oil industry, and interrogate transformations away from oil based societies. These visions can be artistic, critical or otherwise creative, and can refer to the past, present, or future, including solarpunk and post-apocalyptic visions of desirable futures. We welcome contributions that explore how literature, film, the visual arts, and other narrative and aesthetic forms of expression render visible phenomena around oil and the many transformations that exist in ontological kinship with it. Papers will draw out how the arts visualize, channel and evoke concerns and enthusiasm about justice, progress, technology, ecology, prosperity, scarcity, abundance and capital in an age of transformation. Ingrained and reflected here is the vital question of how visions of oil – past, present and future – shape the politics of transformation in the present.
Call for Papers
Individual Papers: Please submit a 400 word (max) abstract that identifies the themes your paper responds to along with a 200 word (max) bio by 20 January 2020.
Pre-Formed Panels, Workshops, or Roundtables: Please submit a two page panel description that identifies the themes the panel responds to as well as the institution, research group, or network organizing the panel, workshop, or roundtable by 03 January 2020 (DEADLINE EXTENDED). Panels must also include 250 word abstracts and brief bios for the individual papers that comprise the panel.
Announcements regarding virtual participation and potential funding will appear here in the near future.
All submissions and inquiries can be sent to the organizers' email:
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Stephanie LeMenager, Barbara and Carlisle Moore Professor of English and Environmental Studies, University of Oregon
Cyril Obi, Program Director for the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa program
Michael Watts, Professor Emeritus of Geography and Development Studies at the University of California, Berkeley
Gisa Weszkalnys, Associate professor of Anthropology, London School of Economics
About the Venue
The Norwegian Petroleum Museum in Stavanger provides a modern, interactive setting for experiencing how oil and gas were created millions of years ago, how petroleum is found and how it is used. Original objects, models, films and interactive exhibits convey the history of oil operations on the Norwegian continental shelf since the mid 1960ies.
The museum provides insights into technological developments in the petroleum sector, and the way this industry has “oiled” the economy and affected Norwegian society. In 2019 the museum also launched an updated exhibition on the climate challenge – telling the story of how energy has changed societies during history and how energy supplies are crucial for the functioning of the modern world.
Find more information on their website: here.
Photo: Unknown/Norwegian Petroleum Museum