There Will be Blood: Oil Curse, Fossil Dependency and Petro-Addiction

New Formations - ISSN 0950-2378
Volume 2021 Number 103

There Will be Blood: Oil Curse, Fossil Dependency and Petro-Addiction
Michael Watts pages 10-42
DOI: 10.3898/NEWF:103.02.2021


There is an active academic and policy debate over whether and how oil producers – as exemplars of a larger set of Global South development problems associated with ‘resource dependency’ – can be associated with a number of ‘pathologies’ or deficits (corruption, poor economic growth, conflict) that are seen as expressions of a much-wider global addiction to petroleum and natural gas. Equally, there is a vibrant set of regulatory and policy interventions designed to render the oil and gas sector more transparent and accountable through modalities like the extractive industries transparency initiative (EITI). In both cases, the language of dependency and addiction is endemic. The so-called ‘resource curse’ and oil’s commodity status as ‘the devil’s excrement’ are exemplary expressions of oil’s apparently seductive yet catastrophic properties. Oil dependency and oil addiction have become central to the discourse – a planetary discourse in effect, of the Anthropocene and forms of life within it. This article explores how discourses of dependency and addiction have been put to work, and with what effect, in the debate around the oil and gas global assemblage. It shows how in the case of dependency (and here it is largely the dependency associated with oil-producing or petro-states such as Saudi Arabia or Nigeria) there are often unacknowledged and deep registrations of the word’s meanings which are embedded in liberal governance. Much of this dependency talk, I will argue, locates the problem in a series of failings (which oil both overdetermines and facilitates) associated with liberal views of the self, of political economy and the state. In the case of oil dependency as an addiction, I attempt to draw out how an understanding of addiction as a social (and systemic) issue, rather than a property of individual consumers or the pathological-addictive character of particular commodities, sheds light on how oil is built into hydrocarbon capitalism, and what it will take to, as it were, break the habit of large-scale oil consumption.

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To cite this article
Michael Watts (2021) There Will be Blood: Oil Curse, Fossil Dependency and Petro-Addiction, New Formations, 2021(103), 10-42.

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