Landscapes of Energy: Oil

Permission of instructor

1/24/19 — note schedule change from W 2-5 in room 5-232 to M 1-4 in room 5-216

The graduate research seminar is a critical inquiry on the relations of energy and space to conceptualize and ultimately influence choices regarding the geographies of energy systems. A key objective of the seminar is to develop a theoretical and geographical framework for thinking critically, politically, and speculatively about the complex relationships between spatial and energetic transformations. The course spatialize large technical systems of energy, to critically analyze existing and speculative energy visions, and to speculate on energy futures in relation to contemporary buzz-word assertions of growth, security, scarcity, justice, and sustainability amongst others. By making visible and material this infrastructure, the course is an invitation to articulate design’s environmental agency and its appropriate scales of intervention. The course calls as such upon the designer, historian, and theorist to take responsibility for the implications of this shared extractive archaeology when making decisions regarding the nature of his or her work.

First, the course shifts the conversation on energy away from "matters of fact" approach of energy to "matters of concern," to borrow Bruno Latour's terms. In debates on sustainability, efficiency, and green renewable energy, "matters of fact" respond to energy "crises" by rehearsing managerial and technological fixes to protect the world — its ecology, economy. Rather, and by identifying sites of energy controversies, this course embraces "matters of concern," which outline contestations of social and ecological relations and redraw the issues at stake in the geographies of such sites and systems. 

Second, the course counteracts the abstraction of energy as an all-encompassing category by examining in particular the geographies of oil to explore the relations between specific energy technology and the organization of space, follow the physical infrastructure of oil–from extraction in concession sites along transport routes through the electric grid and into symbolic capital in world-cities.

The readings draw on the history of technology, design, landscape, environmental humanities, and critical geography to bring together energy attributes that are usually addressed in separate fields. The weekly themes are framed through the lens of a specific landscape or infrastructure and that to deconstruct energy as an abstract and essentializing category and to engage conversations on its materialist and geographic attributes across scales.  

The main student deliverable of the semester is a research dossier around a specific "oil landscape" of your choosing, that is developed in a combination of graphic and written analysis.