Work in Progress
A Companion to Critical and Cultural Theory
- Edited with Sarah Blacker and Justin Sully
Wiley-Blackwell (estimated pub. date, 2015)
A Companion to Critical and Cultural Theory offers a fresh perspective on both familiar and under-theorized questions and topics animating the field of contemporary critical and cultural theory. It provides a full account of the history and scope of the field, focusing on the most pressing questions and problems that occupy and impel contemporary theoretical discourse. Gathering together some of the most widely read and innovative theorists working today, this Companion offers thirty-nine essays designed to illuminate the topics that dominate theoretical debate today and, we anticipate, for some time to come. By framing its chapters around the problems and issues animating the field today, A Companion to Critical and Cultural Theory offers a theoretical framework within which crucial questions, traditions, approaches, and concepts in critical and cultural theory take on newly generative valences. Capturing the dynamism of contemporary theory, the essays collected in this book will provide a comprehensive account of the ways in which the study of literature and culture has been, and continues to be challenged and energized by critical and cultural theory.
Divided into two sections entitled “Lineages” and “Problematics,” the essays in this volume offer a genealogy of critical and cultural theory that highlights its heterogeneous geographical, cultural and theoretical influences (“Lineages”), while also foregrounding the issues and problems animating contemporary theoretical discourse (“Problematics”). Grouped together by analytical orientation into three sub-sections (“Living and Labouring,” “Ways of Being,” and “Structures of Agency and Belonging”), the essays on problematics cut across the field’s existing debates, foci, and subfields, and in so doing highlight new questions and approaches in critical and cultural theory.
Contributors to this book include Lauren Berlant, Bruno Bosteels, Sarah Brophy, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Michael Denning, Veit Erlmann, Ghassan Hage, Rosemary Hennessy, Ben Highmore, Sean Homer, Miranda Joseph, Rauna Kuokkanen, Nick Lawrence, Neil Lazarus, Stephanie LeMenager, Lydia Liu, Catherine Malabou, Randy Martin, Toby Miller, Aamir Mufti, Bobby Noble, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Mike O’Driscoll, Simone Pinet, Nina Power, Jason Read, Marie-Laure Ryan, Susan Schweik, Paul Smith, Will Straw, Priscilla Wald, and Jennifer Wenzel.
Fueling Culture: Politics, History, Energy
- Edited with Jennifer Wenzel and Patricia Yaeger
Fordham University Press
How has our relation to energy changed over time? What differences do specific energy sources make to human values and politics? How have changing energy resources transformed culture? To answer these questions and make sense of our energy pasts and presents, Fueling Culture: Energy, History, Politics brings together work that touches on a wide range of energy resources, including dung, wood/charcoal, coal, tallow, plant oils, whale oil, kerosene, petroleum, natural gas, nuclear, biofuels, solar, wind, wave, steam, and human energy, as well as contributions that explore the global significance of energy across the social, political and cultural spectrum (e.g., decolonization, modernization, globalization, and digitization). How should the humanities and social sciences reconceptualize the relation of energy to specific places (e.g., Russia, Mexico, Nigeria) or historical periods (e.g., Anthropocene, Enlightenment)? What concepts and theories allow us to clarify our relation to energy (e.g., abundance, demand, exhaustion, peak, scarcity)?
Fueling Culture is a collection of meditations by major scholars on keywords related to energy. We envision these brief meditations as suggestive and exploratory rather than purely informative or summative. Instead of encyclopedia entries, these think-pieces, conceptual interventions, and brief narratives will offer new ways to think about energy. Rather than offering a catalog of existing knowledge, this volume pushes past the limits of current discourse, much of which focuses on the irresolvable contradictions of dependence upon unsustainable energy forms. Since the significant social, political and cultural predicaments generated by energy are moving to the forefront of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, the aim of this volume is to generate novel insights into the social circulation of energy and the importance of energy for critical investigations and interpretations of culture today.
In addition to contributions that stretch our thinking and tell us what we don’t quite know about energy as the source and limit of culture, (instead of repeating familiar ideas of energy expressed in the genre of catastrophe discourse), Fueling Culture presents place-specific concerns and the spatial and scalar relations entailed in different forms of energy use, including inequalities created by what Fernando Coronil has called capital’s international division of nature. In a PMLA essay on tallow, Laurie Shannon argues that the shift from energy produced within the household to modes of energy sourced elsewhere suggests that questions of scale are central for thinking about energy. If the shift from wood to coal allowed for massive increases in energy consumption with fewer land/woodlots devoted to energy production, as Timothy Mitchell argues, what other shifts in scale are important for reconceptualizing the histories of energy formations? Ken Hiltner’s argument that pollution increases with the changing spatial concentration of urban London suggests the urgency of rethinking energy in earlier periods. Is it possible that all forms of energy are “dirty” when scaled up to meet demand?
Questions of periodization are also crucial to this project. What is the role of energy availability, scarcity and profligacy in historical change? How do questions of energy become legible in moments of crisis? How do we periodize cultural production or theorize material resources that may be socially central but remain unread or invisible in literary and critical texts? Fueling Cultures argues that the role of an “energy unconscious” delineates one mode of analysis, as does attention to the simultaneity of different modes of energy resources, where periodization is not a simple matter. Consider Dipesh Chakrabarty’s attention to the coincidence of the age of Enlightenment and the Anthropocene, Mitchell’s comparison of wood, coal, oil and the forms of social and political organization they entail, and Michael Pollan’s account of the shift from the sun and fossil fuels in the industrialization of food.
In addition to periodization, Fueling Culture includes pieces that explore methodology: protocols of reading that are attuned to questions of energy (or its absence) within a given historical moment or text. How does energy put pressure on literary and cultural forms? How do we make sense of cultural forms that are particularly attuned to questions of resource excess or deprivation? Does genre look different when we think about energy? How do we read for energy in relation to the sociology and materiality of cultural production and distribution? What about the elusive “metaphysics” of substance—the difficulty of writing about energy as a problem? How do we go beyond the conceptual limit of pointing to energy as a structuring impasse, an absent center?
Fueling Culture brings together writing that is risk-taking and interdisciplinary, drawing on insights from political economy, political ecology, environmental history, eco-criticism, postcolonial and globalization studies, and materialisms old and new, including thing theory and actor network theory.
Contributors include Chris Arsenault, Crystal Bartolovich, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Nicholas Brown, Frederick Buell, Eric Cazdyn, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Claire Colebrook, William Connolly, Ashley Dawson, Lisa Gitelman, Richard Grusin, Gay Hawkins, Peter Hitchcock, Toby Miller, Timothy Morton, Reza Negarestani, Lydia Liu, Rob Nixon, Onookome Okome, Lisa Parks, Donald Pease, Alexei Penzin, Judith Revel, Naoki Sakai, Saskia Sassen, John Urry, Patricia Wald, Michael Watts, and others.
On Empty: The Cultural Politics of Oil
- Fordham University Press (under consideration)
As an increasing number of scholars are pointing out, the character of contemporary life depends fundamentally on oil—a cheap, accessible, easy to store and transport, and rich source of energy that has created the material conditions for manufacturing economies, global trade, human population growth, auto-mobility, and more. However, it is only in the past decade that full recognition of oil’s significance has become a prominent feature of everyday debate and discussion. Oil is today front page news across the globe as never before—from disputes over the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines to discussions about the price at the pump and its potential impact on the US presidential election; from analyses of oil’s role in shaping geopolitical tensions to anxieties about fuel supply and diminishing reserves; and, in Canada, from the specific impact of oil sands development on the environment to the role played by oil in reshaping power, politics and economics in the country.
In On Empty: The Cultural Politics of Oil, I iundertake a multifaceted analysis of the cultural and social claims and assumptions that shape and guide how we think and talk about oil—a map of the multiple, complex and often contradictory ways in which oil has come to be positioned in our social imaginaries. I do so through an investigation of the narratives and discourses surrounding oil in culture, politics, and social and cultural theory. The book that will emerge from this research will thus probe the cultural politics of oil at three distinct sites: (1) in the visual arts, documentary cinema, and contemporary fiction; (2) as they emerge in public discussions and debates in relation to three major oil ‘events’: the running aground of the Exxon Valdez, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the emergence of the oil sands as an environmental problem on an international level; and (3) in theoretical discussions about ecological limits sustainability and the shape of the commons. My intent is not to be exhaustive or comprehensive with respect to narratives and discourses of oil in culture, politics or theory (the respective focus of each of the three sites named above). Rather, by investigating each of these sites, what I wish to capture is the full range of the contemporary discourses that have emerged in relation to this puzzling substance whose impact on human life has been more significant than we have previously believed.