Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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OFFSHORE: Energy Cultures of the North Sea

“Offshore: Energy Culture of the North Sea” is focused on the cultural imagination of energy and energy production around the North Sea, particularly the “petrocultures” of offshore oil and gas, through the analysis of literary texts and visual media from the United Kingdom and Scandinavia from the 1970s until the present day. Tracing the path of oil as it seeps into texts, films, and other cultural artefacts from the 1970s onwards, this project will examine how the rise of oil has been perceived, welcomed, interpreted, and resisted; how oil’s symbolic and material meanings have been understood and valued by the people inside and outside the industry; and how the agency of oil (and later gas and wind power) have worked to shape and influence cultural production and discourses.

The project will make use of the literary technique of close readings, extended also to the interpretation of visual texts. By applying specialist knowledge of British and Scandinavian culture and languages, it pays attention to the contexts in which texts are produced and received, selecting texts from both sides of the North Sea for comparative analysis. The comparative process will foreground the pelagic and transnational elements of North Sea energy extraction without losing sight of national narratives and geographical specificities. The rise the environmental humanities have propelled the study of physical places and processes into the heart of humanities research, and recently the newly designated field of energy humanities has brought its expertise to bear on an explicit concern for energy use and its implication in the crisis of anthropogenic climate change. So far, however, there has been no systematic study of the petrocultures of the North Sea. The marine location of North Sea oil extraction and the transnational cooperation mechanisms that have enabled its functioning suggest a cultural logic distinct from that of, say, Mexico, Texas, or the Niger Delta. This project will seek to define the characteristics of offshore energy cultures of the North Sea and contribute to discussions in global energy humanities.

Project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Project number 455390570) 2021–24 and led by Katie Ritson.