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Cultures, Ecologies and Economies of Oil: A Critical Exploration of the Lived Contradictions and Representations of Oil across Nations, Sectors, and Disciplines Event

Published: 16 July 2021
Cultures, Ecologies and Economies

We are delighted to announce the launch of a series of events we will be running. We hope they will be of special interest to those of you who are interested in the Environmental Humanities, the Energy Humanities, Ecocriticism, the Anthropocene, the Capitalocene, World Dramas and World Literatures, and Petro-Drama and Petro-Literature. These talk series constitute part of the project –“Cultures, Ecologies and Economies of Oil: A Critical Exploration of the Lived Contradictions and Representations of Oil across Nations, Sectors, and Disciplines” - supported by SIAH (Southampton Institute of Arts and Humanities). You can find a succinct account of the details of the project here.

The project comprises two chief components: 

A series of paneled talks and workshops running between 30 June and 30 July 2021. These talks will include scholars such as Imre Szeman, Sharae Deckard, Stephen Shapiro, Kaveh Ehsani, Ian Wereley, Stephen Morton, Macarena Gomez-Barris, Mona Damluji, Michael Truscello, and Penelope Plaza. 
An international festival (specifically oriented to visual arts, with a specific focus on graphic arts, poster design and other relevant modes) on the topic of Oil Cultures and Oil Ecologies. The announcement and further information concerning the festival will be released later this month. 
The second event in the talk series is scheduled to occur Friday 16 July 2021, 15.00-17.00 UK time. 

Notes for editors

The event will include three scholars: Dr Jeff Diamanti, Dr Penélope Plaza and Dr Malcolm Cook. 

These three scholars variously specialize in interdisciplinary methodologies and approaches to the questions of the histories, cultures and economies of the nations and peoples that depend on fossil fuel and other forms of resource extraction in the context of a globally extended capitalist system.  Please find below a concise account of each speaker’s talk. 

Dr Jeff Diamanti


“Oil’s Depth of Field(s)” 


In this talk I reflect on the mixed methodologies brought to bear on the object of oil across the last decade and more of petrocultural criticism. I offer the “field” (as opposed to the smokestack, the oil spill, or the gas pump) as a material heuristic through which to read oil’s material and historical force across the multiple scales it draws into determinate relation. I close by offering reflections on what an ecumenical materialism might look like for 21st century social theory. 


Dr Jeff Diamanti is Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities (Cultural Analysis & Philosophy) at the University of Amsterdam. In 2016-17 he was the Media@McGill Postdoctoral Fellow in Media and the Environment where he co-convened the international colloquium on Climate Realism, the results of which appear in a book collection on Routledge and a double issue of Resilience. His first book, Climate and Capital in the Age of Petroleum: Locating Terminal Landscapes (Bloomsbury) tracks the political and media ecology of fossil fuels across the extractive and logistical spaces that connect remote territories like Greenland to the economies of North America and Western Europe.  His other books include Fueling Culture (Fordham UP) and A Companion to Critical and Cultural Studies (Wiley-Blackwell). Diamanti has edited a number of book and journal collections including Contemporary Marxist Theory (Bloomsbury 2014), Materialism and the Critique of Energy (MCM’ Press 2018), Energy Culture (West Virginia University Press 2019) and Bloomsbury Companion to Marx (2018). 

Dr Penélope Plaza


“A rare “seed”: sowing and harvesting culture as renewable oil in Petrosocialist Venezuela” 


This presentation entwines theories of state space, bureaucratic power and culture as a resource, to move beyond the conventional compartmentalisation of the material and cultural effects of oil. It examines how oil is a cultural resource, in addition to a natural resource, implying therefore that struggles over culture implicate oil, and struggles over oil implicate culture. It considers how the state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela Sociedad Anónima (PDVSA), extended its role over cultural symbols, equating oil with culture and presenting oil as a renewable resource. This is particular poignant through the advertising campaign launched by PDVSA La Estancia in 2013, titled Transformamos el petróleo en un recurso renovable para ti (We transform oil into a renewable source for you). The adverts provide a novel imaginary of urban life and culture under Petrosocialism, a complex vision of a particular lived geography that attempts to integrate high culture and oil aesthetics into urban space through the myth of “culture as renewable oil”. 


Dr Penélope Plaza is a Venezuelan architect, researcher and urban artivist.  She qualified and developed her practice as an architect in Venezuela, before moving to the UK to get her PhD in Cultural Policy and Management from City University of London. She is also the co-founder of Caracas-based not-for-profit design practice Collectivox. Currently, she is Lecturer in Architecture at the School of Architecture, University of Reading. Her research explores the entanglements between oil, politics, culture and urban space, with a particular interest in urban artivism and contemporary petro-cultures. Her monograph, Culture as Renewable Oil: How Territory, Bureaucratic Power and Culture Coalesce in the Venezuelan Petrostate was shortlisted for the Royal Geographical Society's Political Geography Research Group Book Award 2018-2020, and awarded a Special Commendation by the jury panel. 

Dr Malcom Cook  


“Our Changing Planet: Useful animation, fossil fuels and the environment” 


This talk will examine the use of animation within the oil industries in the first half of the twentieth century. Animation and ‘petroculture’ developed mutually. Animation enabled new scientific discoveries, specialist training, public education and advertising for these industries. Equally, animation was the product of new petrochemical materials and developed aesthetically and industrially through the economic stimulus of petroleum industries. Yet until the turn to ‘useful cinema’ or ‘films that work’ (Hediger and Vonderau 2009, Acland and Wasson 2011) and recent attention to ‘petrocinema’ (Dahlquist and Vonderau 2021), these rich areas of activity have been ignored by film and animation scholars. Moreover, their implications for the environmental humanities and petroculture studies remain to be explored.  

Instructional and advertising films, and expanded animated installations, repeatedly returned to the reanimation of dinosaurs, with examples including Disney’s work in conjunction with Richfield Oil, Ford, and ExxonMobil; Halas & Batchelor’s films for BP; and Sinclair Oil’s dinosaur logo and marketing. These palaeontological revivals encapsulate two key ideas of change and dynamism and thus illustrate the role animation has played, both as a practical tool and philosophical idea, in the history of oil extraction and exploitation. Animated dinosaurs aided understanding of how fossil fuels formed and their energetic capacity, but they also necessarily recognised those fuels as a trace of planetary change, death, and extinction. In doing so they can be seen to have played a role in the epistemological shift that recognised the planet as changeable, thereby creating the conditions for us to comprehend the possibility of climate change, and in turn opening a space for corrective action.


Dr Malcolm Cook is Associate Professor in Film Studies at the University of Southampton. His monograph Early British Animation: From Page and Stage to Cinema Screens was published in 2018 and was runner-up in the Norman McLaren/Evelyn Lambart Award for Best Scholarly Book in Animation. His recent research has focussed on the role of advertising in the history of animation, and he has published several chapters on this topic, which appear in The Animation Studies Reader (Bloomsbury, 2018) and Aardman Animations: Beyond Stop-Motion (Bloomsbury, 2020). He is co-editor (with Kirsten Moana Thompson) of the new collection Animation and Advertising (2019).

For more information regarding this event, please email Alireza Fakhrkonandeh.

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