Jan 4, 2018

107 – Michael Watts

Cymene and Dominic report on the insane fireworks situation in Reykjavík. Then (16:02) Dominic chats with our esteemed energy humanist colleague Michael Watts from UC-Berkeley. Michael explains how he accidently backed in to studying Nigerian petroculture in the 1970s and how he has traced the formation of the Nigerian petrostate from the Biafran war through the insurgencies of the 1990s and 2000s. We discuss the legacies of those insurgencies for the politics of oil in Nigeria today, the epistemological challenges of trying to comprehend the global character of the petroleum in its local/national manifestations especially when “the numbers make no bloody sense” and the industry shrouds itself in secrecy. We analyze the characteristics of oil frontiers and discuss whether an end to the boom/bust cycle of oil development is nigh. Then we turn to Michael’s recent volume, Subterranean Estates: Life Worlds of Oil and Gas (Cornell U Press, 2015) edited together with Hannah Appel and Arthur Mason, and especially his chapter on “accumulated insecurities” and the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Michael shows us the parallels between the neoliberal deregulation of, and actuarial logics within, the energy and financial industries and this brings Deepwater into a generative comparison with the 2008 financial crash. We move from there to Michael’s partnership with Ed Kashi and why photography has always been a passion of his. We close by talking about Michael’s ongoing interest in agriculture—in particular the future of Californian agriculture in a time of drought and fire—and about his work to demystify the research proposal as an element of graduate training.