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 has been rescheduled for 2022 in Stavanger, Norway.

Petrocultures has organized two After Oil Schools (AOS), with a third planned to begin in 2021. 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.

AOS 3 launches in 2021, featuring a new format and set of concerns. Additional AOS projects will be launched in 2021 and 2022.

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

Jordan B. Kinder

Jordan B. Kinder studies the cultural politics of energy, media, infrastructure, and environment. He grew up in what is now called northern British Columbia and is a citizen of the Métis Nation of Alberta. He was a SSHRC-FRQSC Postdoctoral Fellow at McGill University in the Department of Art History & Communication Studies (2020-2022), is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Humanities with the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University (2022-23), and after will be an Assistant Professor in Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Imre Szeman

Imre Szeman (co-director) 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.

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 on neoliberalism and the 1970s US energy crisis is forthcoming with Johns Hopkins University Press. Learn more about his research and writing at calebwellum.com.

Sheena Wilson

Sheena Wilson (co-director) 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.

Become a member

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