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Narratives of (Un)sustainability: Assessing U.S. Oil Culture


27 September 2019


Prof. Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet, UNIL

Mme Audrey Loetscher, UNIL

Prof. Christian Arnsperger, UNIL


Stephanie LeMenager, University of Oregon



Amidst growing international concerns regarding resource scarcity and climate change, ecological issues remain largely absent of the American political debate and agenda and the US remains one of the least sustainable countries in terms of energy footprint and per-capita energy consumption. The refusal to address pressing environmental issues can be traced, at least in part, to an ideology of abundance and infinite growth that is closely interwoven with national identity, and which has been reinforced and fueled by the discovery of petroleum in the mid-19th century. Also relevant to the failure to impose or even consider more effective environmental protection policies is the master trope of "freedom," specifically as applied to business and so-called "free enterprise."


This one-day workshop will be led by Prof. Stephanie LeMenager, who recently authored "Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century," in which she focused on the aesthetic and emotional legacies of petroleum, and co-edited a volume on the question of how to teach climate change in the humanities. Through their readings and group discussions, participants will explore the tensions between the dominant political discourses forming and informing the myth of inexhaustible natural abundance and the growing awareness that a politics of infinite growth is incompatible with a finite biosphere, and reflect upon the following questions: what enduring national narratives have led us into this unsustainable situation? How has infinite growth and the rapid technological development based on cheap and seemingly unlimited fossil fuels impacted American culture in the 20th and 21st centuries and how is the present contraction of that supply (considering that US oil production peaked already in the 1970s) affecting American culture and its ability to imagine a future? How do these issues play out in the cultural imagination and literary production of the modern world more generally? What are the narratives and tropes that would help us move toward a one-planet lifestyle? And what role can writers and scholars play in revising these myths and helping the U.S. and the world at large move to a more sustainable post-carbon culture?







Deadline for registration 20.09.2019
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