Taking Risks: Oil Frontiers and the Accumulation of Insecurity

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Indiana University William T. Patten Foundation


Oil frontiers are the social spaces associated with the exploration and development of one of the most global and strategically important resource sectors of contemporary capitalism: oil and gas fields. Through an examination of two oil frontiers – one in the Global South (Nigeria) and the other in the Global North (the Gulf of Mexico and the US outer continental shelf) – this lecture explores the particular qualities of frontiers in general, and why oil frontiers arise in conditions in which questions of authority, the rule of law and governance conspire to produce what I call the accumulation of insecurity. These oil frontiers were both marked by risks and forms of precariousness which culminated in profound crises: in one case, an environmental disaster (the blowout and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon in 2010), and in the other, the rise of an insurgency (in the Niger delta in 2005). Through a comparative examination of the dynamics of these two resource frontiers, I demonstrate how a geographical perspective can shed light on the shifting landscape of risk and precarity within neoliberal capitalism.


Michael Watts, Class of 1963 Professor of Geography and Development Studies, University of California, Berkeley. Video recording of lecture presented on February 28, 2017, at Presidents Hall, Franklin Hall, Indiana University Bloomington.




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