About Petrocultures

The Petrocultures Research Group produces and supports research on the social and cultural implications of oil and energy on individuals, communities, and societies around the world today. Through our global network of members, events, and initiatives, we generate new ways of thinking about energy and culture.

Our history

The Petrocultures Research Group was founded in 2011 at the University of Alberta by Imre Szeman and Sheena Wilson.

We hosted our first conference at the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 2012. The now biennial conference has grown in size and diversity ever since, with subsequent gatherings in Montreal, QC (2014), St. John’s, NL (2016), and Glasgow, Scotland (2018). COVID-19 delayed the fifth Petrocultures conference, which finally took place in Stavanger, Norway in August 2022. Two Petrocultures conferences are scheduled for 2024: one in Los Angeles (May 15-18) and a second in Perth (November 11-13).

Petrocultures has organized three After Oil Schools (AOS). AOS is a discussion and writing event that brings together academic researchers, artists, and policymakers to advance energy humanities research. AOS 1 took place at the University of Alberta in 2015, resulting in the influential, collectively-authored text After Oil. AOS 2: Solarity brought together a new group of collaborators at the Centre for Canadian Architecture in Montreal to reflect on the challenges and possibilities of a social transition to energy systems and communities organized around the energy of the sun. Several publications resulted, including a forthcoming collectively-authored text and a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly.

Twenty researchers gathered for several AOS 3 workshops in 2022-2023, where they presented new research, recorded a podcast series, and collectively wrote a book that is now being edited for publication.

The Petrocultures Research Group also supports the publication of new research. In addition to the excellent independent work of our members, Petrocultures supported the establishment of an Energy Humanities book series with Johns Hopkins University Press. In 2017, Sheena Wilson, Adam Carlson, and Imre Szeman edited Petrocultures: Oil, Politics, Culture, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Our mandate

Our mandate is to support, produce, and distribute leading-edge energy humanities research. Through our network and funding, we connect researchers to generate new insights about energy and culture. We host conferences, organize workshops, run an academic leadership hub, work with communities engaged in building new energy futures, fund postdoctoral fellows, and manage a listserv.

Petrocultures members are engaged in research about different topics, places, and eras related to energy. Among the issues that this research investigates are:

  • Labour in petrocultures (influx of temporary foreign workers, transient labour forces, the rights or lack thereof of labourers, etc.)
  • The composition of communities in historical and contemporary oil economies
  • Education in energy societies
  • Health
  • The intersection of cultural and environmental issues (resource management, water and oil, etc.)
  • Indigenous cultures and societies (land and mineral rights, community safety, race in petrocultures, etc.)
  • Intersectional impacts of energy systems
  • Politics and social-political life in petro-states
  • The impacts of all of these issues on forms of cultural production (art, literature, film, etc.) that attempt to represent and address the socio-cultural realities of living alongside oil technologies
  • Potential future energy systems and societies

Our sponsors

Our members

See the Petrocultures members who are changing how we think about the social, cultural, and political dimensions of energy.

Our team

Sheena Wilson

Sheena Wilson is a Professor at the University of Alberta; Director of Just Powers; Associate Director Research of UAlberta’s Sustainability Council; an Energy Futures Lab Fellow; and an advisor to Edmonton’s City Council, as a member of Edmonton’s Energy Transition Climate Resilience Committee (2018-present). Working predominantly in and around Treaty Six, Treaty Eight, and the Métis lands of Northern Alberta, her research collaborations reflect commitments to socially-just energy transition. Publication highlights include “Trafficking in Petronormativities: At the Intersections of Petrofeminism, Petrocolonialism, and Petrocapitalism” (2020) and “Gendering Oil: Tracing Western Petrosexual Relations” (2014). For more information see sheenawilson.ca and justpowers.ca.

Jennifer Wenzel

Jennifer Wenzel has been a regular participant in Petrocultures since 2012. Her 2006 article, “Petro-Magic-Realism: Towards a Political Ecology of Nigerian Literature,” helped pioneer the study of literature and oil. With Imre Szeman and Patricia Yaeger, she co-edited Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment (Fordham, 2017). Trained as a scholar of African and South Asian literatures, she has brought a postcolonial perspective to the emergence of environmental and energy humanities. Her most recent monograph, The Disposition of Nature: Environmental Crisis and World Literature, was published by Fordham in 2019. With Imre Szeman, she is co-editing Energized: Keywords for a New Politics of Energy and Environment. She is jointly appointed in English and Comparative literature and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University.

Caleb Wellum

Caleb Wellum is Assistant Professor of US History at the University of Toronto, Missisauga, editor of Energy Humanities, and co-convener of After Oil 3. Caleb has published several essays on the intertwined histories of energy’s relationship to modernity, culture, and crisis. His book, Energizing Neoliberalism: The 1970s Energy Crisis and the Making of Modern America recently came out with Johns Hopkins University Press. Learn more about his research and writing at calebwellum.com.

Imre Szeman

Imre Szeman is Director of the Institute for Environment, Conservation and Sustainability and Professor of Human Geography at the University of Toronto Scarborough. He is author (most recently) of On Petrocultures: Globalization, Culture, and Energy (2019). Szeman is currently at work on Energized: Keywords for a New Politics of Energy (co-edited with Jennifer Wenzel; forthcoming 2024) and The Future of the Sun, a book examining corporate and state control of the transition to renewables.

Mark Simpson

Mark Simpson is a Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta (Treaty Six / Métis Territory), where he investigates U.S. culture, energy humanities, and mobility studies. Recent examples of his scholarship have appeared in journals such as South Atlantic Quarterly, Radical Philosophy, Postmodern Culture, and English Studies in Canada, and in collections from presses such as Fordham, Toronto, McGill-Queen’s, and Oxford. He is Principal Investigator for “Transition in Energy, Culture and Society,” a multi-year research project with Future Energy Systems at the University of Alberta.

Graeme Macdonald

Graeme Macdonald is a Professor in English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. His current research interests include Resource Culture in World Literature/Globalisation; Energy Humanities and Petrofiction; Environmental Humanities, Science Fiction; Modern and Contemporary Scottish and British Culture. He is editor of Scottish Literature and Postcolonial Literature (EUP 2011), Post Theory: New Directions in Criticism (EUP, 1999), and a new edition of John McGrath’s play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil (2015). Graeme has been engaged in numerous research projects (including Climaginaries: narrating socio-cultural transitions to a post-fossil society) and networks and is currently preparing a monograph, Petrofiction: Oil and World Literature.

Dominic Boyer

Dominic Boyer teaches at Rice University, where he also served as Founding Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (2013-2019). He is currently pursuing anthropological research with flood victims in Houston, Texas, and on electric futures across the world. His most recent book is No More Fossils (University of Minnesota Press, 2024). He is also the author of is Energopolitics (Duke UP, 2019), which is part of a collaborative duograph, “Wind and Power in the Anthropocene,” with Cymene Howe. With Howe, he also helped make a documentary film about Iceland’s first major glacier (Okjökull) lost to climate change, Not Ok: a little movie about a small glacier at the end of the world (2018). In August 2019, together with Icelandic collaborators they installed a memorial to Okjökull’s passing, an event that attracted media attention from around the world.

Darin Barney

Darin Barney is the Grierson Chair in Communication Studies and Professor in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. From 2005-2015 he was Canada Research Chair in Technology & Citizenship at McGill. He was President of the Canadian Communication Association (2010-2012), and served on the Advisory Council of the Law Commission of Canada (2000-2005). He has received several awards for his academic work, including the 2003 SSHRC Aurora Prize for outstanding contribution to Canadian intellectual life. He is a member of the After Oil collective and a Director of the Radical Critical Theory Circle. He convenes the Grierson Research Group (www.griersonresearchgroup.ca).

Become a member

You can join us! Head to our Members page to learn more and submit a membership application.