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The University of Southampton
Southampton Institute for Arts and Humanities

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

Published: 22 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 third event in the talk series is scheduled to occur on Friday Thursday 22 July 2021, 15.30-17.30 UK time. 

This event will feature talks by Professor Stephen Shapiro, Professor Stephen Morton, Dr Michael Truscello and Dr Thomas Waller.


Professor Stephen Shapiro  


The Cultural Fix of Carbon Lifeworlds


In this talk I will revisit Marx’s late additions to Capital Volume I to consider three compositions of the Commodity: one on Value, another on Technical Matters, and the third, the organic, which I call the social form. Any critical understanding of the historical cloys and crises of energy regimes needs to be attentive to these three levels, not least since the second involves the so-called metabolic rift. But this layer is not the ultimately consequential one, and reconsidering the commodity reveals a term that Marx ought to have included, but did not: Fixed Labor-power. This term allows for the realisation of a “cultural fix” akin to the “spatial fix” and is the realm of so-called social reproduction and the social forms in which energy regimes are made commonsensical or resisted.


Professor Stephen Shapiro teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. Author and editor of 17 book projects, he has also been a member of the Warwick Research Collective (WReC). His most recent publications include Pentecostal Modernism: Lovecraft, Los Angeles, and World-Systems Culture (with Philip Barnard); the collection edited with Sharae Deckard, World Literature, Neoliberalism, and the Culture of Discontent, and the collection co-edited with Liam Kennedy, Neoliberalism and Contemporary American Literature.

Professor Stephen Morton


Allegories of the Wretched Earth in Narratives of the Tar Sands


In his essay on Third World Literature, Fredric Jameson makes clear that the bourgeois protagonist of Sembene’s Xala functions as a middleman between European multinationals and local extraction industries. The national allegory about which Jameson writes in this same essay, in other words, is at one and the same time, an allegory of extraction between the (semi-)periphery and the core of the modern world-system. Extending and re-framing Jameson’s tantalising and often overlooked suggestion, this paper examines how First Nations and settler-colonial narratives of resource extraction in the Athabasca tar sands invite different kinds of allegorical readings. Whereas Rudy Wiebe’s story ‘The Angel of the Tar Sands’ uses the sublime tropes associated with landscape painting and aerial photography to position the reader as a transcendent subject who stands above and apart from the spectacle of ecological devastation, the fiction of Warren Carriou and Richard Van Camp draws on the pre-colonial oral traditions of different Aboriginal Nations to both register and challenge the wretched earth that Canada’s extractivist empire has left in its wake. By comparing these different modes of expression, this paper considers how the formal codes and ways of knowing that are articulated in First Nations writing complicate the multidimensional and transversal vectors of Jamesonian allegoresis in ways that also reimagine a decolonial future after the ecological devastation wrought by Canada’s energy industry on Dene, Cree, and Métis land.


Stephen Morton is a Professor of English and Postcolonial World Literatures at the University of Southampton. He is currently completing a book on Allegories of the World-System. His publications include States of Emergency: Colonialism, Literature and Law (Liverpool and Chicago UP, 2013); Terror and the Postcolonial, co-edited with Elleke Boehmer (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009); Salman Rushdie (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); and Gayatri Spivak: Ethics, Subalternity, and the Critique of Postcolonial Reason (Polity, 2007). He has also published articles in Research in African Literatures, Textual Practice, Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, New Formations, Parallax, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Wasafiri, Canadian Literature, and book chapters in the Cambridge Companion to Contemporary British Fiction, the Oxford Handbook of Postcolonial Studies, and the Cambridge Critical Concepts volume on Affect, edited by Alex Houen.

Dr Michael Truscello


The Horror of Oil Infrastructure


This talk will begin by reviewing some of the arguments I made about oil infrastructure in Infrastructural Brutalism: Art and the Necropolitics of Infrastructure, as part of a discussion of energy landscape photography. The second half of the talk will consider links between the aesthetics of oil and the horror film genre; in particular, I want to extend Chuck Jackson's discussion of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its portrayal of the early 1970s political economy of oil into a discussion of the 2020 fracking horror film Unearth.


Michael Truscello, Ph.D., is an associate professor in English and General Education at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. He is the author of Infrastructural Brutalism: Art and the Necropolitics of Infrastructure (MIT Press, 2020) and co-editor with Ajamu Nangwaya of Why Don’t The Poor Rise Up? Organizing the Twenty-First Century Resistance (AK Press, 2017). His recent publications on petrocultures have appeared as chapters in Petrocultures: Oil, Culture, Politics (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2017), Interrogating the Anthropocene: Ecology, Aesthetics, Pedagogy, and the Future in Question (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and Fueling Culture (Fordham UP, 2017). He directed the film Capitalism Is The Crisis: Radical Politics in the Age of Austerity (2011).

Thomas Waller


World Energy Literature: Oil, Finance and Abstraction


Following the recent move to rethink world literature through the prism of petro-modernity, this paper considers the representational dilemmas attendant on the neoliberal financialisation of oil. Scholars in the energy humanities have often remarked upon oil’s abstract cultural modalities, drawing attention to the seemingly intractable contradiction between oil’s status as a substance that is both familiar and ubiquitous yet at the same time structurally concealed and phenomenologically absent. Building on these arguments, this paper explores the relationship between the impulse towards mystification and abstraction in petro-cultural texts of the neoliberal era and dematerialised forms of capital. Since the mid-1980s, the global extractives industry has been characterised by a move towards financial speculation and away from comparatively less lucrative extraction investments, causing upward pressures on oil prices and market volatility, but also disastrous attempts at cost-cutting in response to rising costs of production. What are the implications of the progressive dematerialisation of late fossil capital for the study of literature and energy? How might texts register oil as a structure of feeling or referential mode beyond a sense of telluric disturbance at the level of content? Focusing on the literary production of Portuguese-speaking southern Africa, this paper argues for a concept of ‘world energy literature’, in which texts can be petrofictional whether oil is figured explicitly in them or not.


Thomas Waller is a PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham researching Portuguese-language African literatures with a particular focus on Angola and Mozambique. His thesis will be a comparative study of literary genre in Portuguese-speaking southern Africa, in which he engages the fields of postcolonial studies, ecocriticism and materialist theories of world literature in order to argue that literary production in the region has developed distinctive aesthetic idioms that critically respond to crises in global capitalism and related failures in postcolonial governance. He has published articles in special issues of the journals African Identities (on ‘Marxism and African Literatures’), Humanities (on ‘World Literature and the Blue Humanities’) and Textual Practice (on ‘Writing Extractivism’), and has an article forthcoming in a special issue of Modern Fiction Studies (on ‘Peripheral Literatures and the History of Capitalism’). 


To join this zoom event please click here.

Meeting ID: 912 6808 5290

Passcode: 868925

For further details on these events please contact Alireza Fakhrkonandeh.


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