Petrocultures is a research group at the University of Alberta (founded in 2011) whose aim is to support, produce, and distribute research related to the social, cultural and political implications of oil and energy use on individuals, communities, and societies around the world. University of Alberta researchers are situated in a prime location to observe, assess and analyze the multiple and complex impacts of the development and management of the oil industry and of energy more generally. The research activities and structures created by the Petrocultures Research Group will enhance and expand this research, and position the U of A at the forefront of a growing field of academic study.

Among the issues that Petrocultures plans to investigate are:

  • labour in petrocultures (influx of temporary foreign workers, transient labour forces, the rights or lack thereof of labour, etc.)
  • the composition of communities in historical and contemporary oil economies
  • education in energy societies
  • health (sex, drugs, addiction)
  • the intersection of cultural and environmental issues (resource management, water and oil, etc.)
  • Aboriginal cultures and societies (land and mineral rights, community safety, race in petrocultures, etc.)
  • gender issues and women’s rights in male dominated labour markets
  • politics and social-political life in petro-states
  • and the impacts of all of these issues on forms of cultural production (art, literature, film, etc.) that attempt to represent and address the socio-cultural realities of living alongside oil technologies.

Petrocultures is also committed to addressing the questions and concerns raised by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s new Future Challenge Areas, specially the second challenge area: “What effects will the quest for energy and natural resources have on our society and our position on the world stage?”

Petrocultures is supported by funding from the Kule Institute for Advanced Study (University of Alberta), Campus Saint Jean  and the Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies .

Sheena Wilson is Assistant Professor and Director of the Bilingual Writing Centre at Campus Saint-Jean, the University of Alberta’s Francophone faculty.  She researches and teaches in the areas of film and media studies, cultural studies, Canadian studies, and writing and rhetoric.  Her research in film, media and cultural studies involves an interdisciplinary approach to the study of human and civil rights abuses, involving an analysis of the relationship between the written word and the image as discursive referents within varying socio-political contexts. In recent years, her interest in human rights and cultural representations has turned to an examination of representations and discourses relevant to the Alberta Oil Sands in film and media locally and internationally.

Imre Szeman is Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English, Film Studies and Sociology at the University of Alberta. He conducts research on and teaches in the areas of energy and environmental studies, literary and cultural theory, social and political philosophy (esp. 19h and 20th left theory, globalization and nationalism), and Canadian studies.

Szeman is the recipient of the John Polanyi Prize in Literature (2000), the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award (2003), the Scotiabank-AUCC Award for Excellence in Internationalization (2004), an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship (2005-7), the President’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Supervision at McMaster University (2008), a Killam Annual Professorship (2013), and the J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research (2015), the U of Alberta’s most prestigious research award that recognizes research excellence in humanities, social sciences, law, education and fine arts. He is the founder of the Canadian Association of Cultural Studies and a founding member of the US Cultural Studies Association. Current projects include: a book on the cultural politics of oil; an edited collection on energy, history and politics; and a major companion to critical and cultural theory