Let’s Nip This ‘Crude’ Thing Right In The Bud

In preparation for my course on anthropology and oil in the fall I’ve done a lot (a lot) of background reading. Moving from the mining industry into oil requires orientation to a whole different set of problems and technical systems than the ones I’ve dealt with in the past — although at the same time, a lot of the issues are very similar. There is one different between the Mine Anthropologists and the Oil Anthropologists, however: the whole Crude thing.

First is was Suzana Sawyer’s Crude Chronicles back in 2004, and now more recently the new and very interesting looking Crude Domination from Berghahn, which could be key to shaping the anthropology of oil… if it didn’t cost eighty five frickin’ dollars. And then there are books by Peter Maas, Sonia Shah, and others. I fear we are about to descend into a black sticky mess of anthropology of oil titles that employ sorta-but-not-really clever twists on the word ‘crude’. It’s inevitable. Anthropologists are too much on the left to ever describe the political economy of petroleum as light and sweet — even the bits of it in Libya. If we are not careful we are going to descend to the depths the field reached in the late 90s when chiasmus was incredible common and the incredibly common was chiasmatic.

So please: if you are doing work in the anthropology of oil, think of the kittens and go with something other than ‘crude’ in the title of your work.

p.s. in a year or two I will write another post just like this one about how the word ‘curse’ is over-used. So if you want to be really fashion-forward you might start avoiding that one as well.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

2 thoughts on “Let’s Nip This ‘Crude’ Thing Right In The Bud

  1. You don’t want to know how many books and articles about wildfire (social sciencey and natural sciencey alike) have some play on “burning question” in their title.

  2. Good point regarding the “crude” titles. That being said, Sawyer’s book is quite a good description of the intimate and contested interactions underlying “neoliberalism,” politics of identity and the often economistic (or modernistic) “resource curse” narrative.

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