Imre Szeman

Work in Progress

What is Cultural Theory?

What is Cultural Theory? offers an overview of the key issues, thinkers and concepts in this emerging area of inquiry. Intended for scholars and students interested in the examination of culture across the disciplines, this book explores not just what cultural theory is, but what it does – the questions, theories and insights it uniquely makes available.

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: What Time Is It?­ (Time)
Chapter 3: Where Are We? (Space)
Chapter 4: Knowing What You Don’t Know (Ideology)
Chapter 5: Diagnostics and Diseases (Interpretation)
Chapter 6: The Eye, the Ear, and the Market (Aesthetics)
Chapter 7: What to Become, Together (Identity and Collectivity)
Chapter 8: The Culture That Is Not One (Nature)
Chapter 9: Bad New Things (Utopia)
Chapter 10: Conclusion

Globalization, Culture, Energy: Selected Essays, 2000-2013

A selected collection of my work on globalization, literary and cultural studies, and energy/oil studies over the past decade or so, which is being translated into Mandarin and will be published next year. Contents include:

1. “The Rhetoric of Culture: Some Notes on Magazines, Canadian Culture and Globalization.” (2000)
2. “Who’s Afraid of National Allegory? Jameson, Literary Criticism, Globalization.” (2001)
3. “Culture and Globalization, or, The Humanities in Ruins.” (2003)
4. “System Failure: Oil, Futurity and the Anticipation of Disaster.” (2007)
5. “Marxist Literary Criticism, Then and Now.” (2009)
6. “The Cultural Politics of Oil: On Lessons of Darkness and Black Sea Files.” (2010)
7. “Globalization, Postmodernism and Literary Criticism.” (2010)
8. “Neoliberals Dressed in Black; or, the Traffic in Creativity.” (2010)
9. “Crude Aesthetics: The Politics of Oil Documentaries.” (2012)
10. “Interventions and Impasses: On the Politics of Culture Today – An Interview with Huimin Jin” (2013)


With this special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly we seek to interrogate the ways in which the idea of entrepreneurship and the figure of the entrepreneurial subject functions politically, economically, and aesthetically. Although this topic has been and is being addressed from business, management, and organization perspectives, there has been little sustained investigation from a cultural studies, humanities, and social science perspective since Foucualt’s preliminary investigations in the 1970s. While his work appears prescient (coming before the neoliberal regimes inaugurated by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan), the intensified developments of entrepreneurial modes of economic and social being since the 1980s deserve renewed interest.

Our issue will address this gap in contemporary cultural research on enterprise and the entrepreneur. We see these terms embodying a number of other key words that increasingly structure the ways in which correct behavior is imagined for individuals and communities: flexibility, perpetual training, innovation, risk management, leadership, creativity, self-motivation, responsibility, and all those other ways in which the individual must become, in Foucault’s words, the site of “permanent and multiple enterprise” (241). As well, investigations of the entrepreneurial can themselves incorporate any number of other key concepts for contemporary cultural studies and social science: precarity, development, governmentality and biopolitics, liberalism and neoliberalism, globalization, debt and credit, financialization, workfare and other decentered modes of employment, the celebration of the individual, and so on.

A Companion to Critical and Cultural Theory

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

How has our relation to energy changed over time? What differences do specific energy sources make to human values and politics? What concepts and theories allow us to clarify our relation to energy, and which just get in the way? And how have changing energy resources transformed culture in turn? Fueling Culture: Energy, History, Politics collects conceptual interventions, illuminating short narratives and adventurous think-pieces from major scholars to generate new ways of thinking about energy. Rather than offering a catalog of existing knowledge, the keywords collected in Fueling Culture push past the limits of current discourse, much of which focuses on the irresolvable contradictions of dependence upon unsustainable energy forms.

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. 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 book is to generate novel insights into the social circulation of energy and the importance of energy for critical investigations and interpretations of culture today.

Topics include: aboriginal, abundance, addiction, altruism, America, anthropocene, architecture, Arctic, automobile, biopolitics/energopolitics, biological evolution, celluloid, charcoal, China, coal, community, corporation, crisis, dams, demand, disaster, ecology, electricity, engine, Enlightenment, ethics, evolution, exhaust, exhaustion, fallout, fracking, frontier, geophilosophy, gender, globalization, green, image, innovation, intellectual history, kerosene, Latin America, materialism, media, mediashock, Middle East, network, Nigeria, off-grid, peak, pipeline, plastics, resilience, resource curse, risk, rubber, rural, Russia, security, soil, solar, spills, strike, suburb, sugar, surveillance, sustainability, Texas, unobtanium, urban ecology, United States, utopia, waste, water, whaling, wood and work.

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

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.