CFP: “Oil Culture” (Journal of American Studies)

Call for Paper Proposals: “Oil Culture,” special issue under
consideration with the Journal of American Studies

Guest Editors:

Ross Barrett, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Daniel Worden, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Petroleum has long been recognized to be a dangerously volatile
commodity whose illuminative and propulsive capacities are inseparable
from its destructive potential.  This catastrophic power has been
reaffirmed by the succession of environmental disasters that have
accompanied the global expansion of oil extraction–a series of
ecological tragedies culminating in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon
blowout–and the array of social antagonisms, global political
conflicts, and chaotic economic cycles that have developed around the
industry since its beginnings. Despite its disastrous implications,
however, oil came to be embraced over the course of the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries as an unassailable “fact” of everyday American
experience, a core issue of national political platforms, and a reliable
pillar of industrial and financial capitalism in the U.S.  While much
work has been done to track the material and political processes that
made the dominance of oil capitalism possible, relatively little
scholarship has addressed the rise of oil as a cultural problem.

For this special issue, we seek essays that explore the wide field of
“oil culture” that has emerged around the American petroleum industry in
the 150 years since its inception in northwestern Pennsylvania.  More
specifically, we are looking for articles that examine how painting,
sculpture, video and digital art, film and photography, popular visual
culture and music, television programming, the print and digital news
media, literature, advertising, and other forms of public culture have
contended with the volatile material of oil and the systemic shifts that
it has produced, and in so doing contributed to, or contested, the
reorientation of modern American life around oil consumption.  We hope,
ultimately, to assemble a roster of essays that elucidate the complex
role that imaginative representations have played in the establishment
of oil as the primary commodity underpinning modern economic expansion
and a fundamental ontological construct shaping social and political
life in the United States and beyond.

Papers might address a range of subjects and problems, including:

–artistic engagements with oil, the petroleum industry, and
petro-carbon consumption
–art, environmentalism, and sustainability
–documentary photography and oil
–cinematic and televisual interpretations of oil
–oil in popular imagery and music
–oil companies and cultural patronage
–museums and the oil industry
–oil advertising and marketing
–petroleum at World’s Fairs and Oil Expositions
–architecture and the oil industry
–the material culture of oil consumption
–oil and the culture of automobility
–race, class, and gender in the oil fields
–oil, mobility, and subjectivity

Proposal Process:

Authors are asked to electronically submit an abstract of 500-1000 words
and an abbreviated cv (two pages) to Ross Barrett (
and Daniel Worden ( by September 1, 2010. Abstracts
should articulate the central arguments, historical and/or theoretical
implications, and methodological approach of the proposed essay, and
situate the essay within relevant scholarly conversations.  The abstract
and cv should be sent as Word documents or PDFs.

After reviewing the proposals, the editors will notify the selected
authors and submit chosen abstracts to the Journal of American Studies
by September 8, 2010. Upon acceptance by the journal, authors will be
asked to submit a full copy of their article to the issue editors by
January 2011.  The full version of the article should not exceed 6000
words, and should be accompanied by a short abstract (200-300 words).
All articles will go through the peer-review process, and it is on the
basis of these reviews that articles will be selected for publication in
the special issue.

For further information on the special issue, please see:

For further information on the Journal of American Studies, please see:


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