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Oil Worlds: People, Places, and Petroleum
Tuesday, October 12, 2010 - 7:00pm

The Portland Center for Public Humanities Presents:

Oil Worlds: People, Places, and Petroleum

The recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has called attention to the tremendous natural and human costs of the world economy’s reliance on petroleum. Both the scope and the scale of the incident reveal the implications of our national relationship with oil, in terms of ecology, economy, health, and the move towards ever riskier and costly methods of extraction. Yet, how well do we understand the costs of oil dependency?

Not only in our own national borders, but in regions far from our own? How are our own dependencies felt in places across the globe? What dimensions of oil may go undetected or overlooked?

We have invited four scholars who bring an international perspective to how oil touches our lives, and lives very far from our own.

Please join us for a roundtable discussion, a discussion that promises to trace out explicit or implicit global and/or historical networks in which the Gulf oil industry/ecology/culture is embedded, and for a stimulating and engaging public discussion on these vital issues.

Roundtable Participants:

Michele Gamburd on Sri Lanka and the Persian Gulf (Portland State University, Anthropology Department)

Shawn Smallman on Alberta, Canada (Portland State University, Vice Provost for Instruction, Dean of Undergraduate Studies Office of Academic Affairs)

Thomas Love on Latin America (Linfield College, Department of Anthropology)

Sarah Lincoln on West Africa (Portland State University, English Department)

Moderator: Howard Silverman (Ecotrust)

Michele Gamburd is a cultural anthropologist, and studies labor migration from Sri Lanka to the Middle East, focusing on women who work as domestic servants in Saudi  Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE. More broadly, Professor Gamburd is interested in how the oil economy draws guest workers to the Gulf, how workers experience their time in the Gulf, in how worker remittances affect their families and the  economics in their sending countries, and how migration affects social  relations (local hierarchies of status, class, and gender) in the sending and receiving countries.

Sarah Lincoln is a literature scholar. Her focus is late 20th century postcolonial and other global literature and film. Professor Lincoln’s research concerns waste, consumerism and economy/ecology in postcolonial contexts, and includes an interest in the political and literary economies of oil in Nigeria. She has published a couple of pieces on necropolitics, sovereignty, and inflationary entropy as these are articulated in the fiction of Nigerian writers Ken Saro-Wiwa and Ben Okri, and is more broadly intrigued by the apparent paradox of a country ruined (ecologically, economically, politically and morally) by its extraordinary riches. She is also concerned with the effects of oil and petro-politics on cultural and literary forms—the relationship between oil and the novel in Nigeria, for example, and the effects of petrodollar inflation on the country’s infamous culture of corruption.

Thomas Love is Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Linfield College. Professor Love is a fifth-generation Portlander anxious about our passivity and distraction by the trivial in the face of the human predicament of population overshoot and converging planetary resource constraints.  He is concerned with political and cultural themes evolving around the largely unacknowledged consequences of declining EROEI (energy return on energy invested) of all known scalable energy resources, the false security we derive from recent gains in energy efficiency, and the virtual impossibility that any combination of renewables and efficiency gains will meet the looming net energy shortfall, posed by the peaking and imminent decline of world oil production, without serious economic turbulence.

Shawn Smallman is Professor of International Studies at Portland State University. His first book was Fear and Memory in the Brazilian Army and Society, 1889-1954, and the second was The AIDS Pandemic in Latin America. He has also co-authored a textbook with Kim Brown titled, An Introduction to International and Global Studies, which the University of North Carolina will release in January 2011. He also founded the Canadian Studies program at Portland State University, and has published on the geopolitics of Canadian oil production. Professor Smallman will present on the Canadian oil sands, which is the largest known petroleum reserve in the world. Canada is already the largest oil exporter to the United States, and Canadian production from the oil sands is scheduled to increase sharply over the next decade. This increase, however, comes at an environmental cost, because petroleum is mined from the oil sands, which results in water contamination, forest loss, and a heavier than normal carbon footprint per barrel of oil. Smallman’s talk will cover the economic, geopolitical and environmental issues related to this resource.

Co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Oregon.