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“How Oil Makes Ecosystems: The Political Ecology of Ruin and Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico”

Valerie Olson
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, UC Irvine
4pm, Busch 18

Oil fuels economies and toxifies environments. What is less clear, but equally powerful, is oil’s paradoxical role materializing ecological relations. Since the 2010 BP oil spill disaster, the Gulf of Mexico has been undergoing a discursively explicit transformation from a regional marine environment into a governable “ecosystem.” This is not happening despite oil, but in concert with how oil is treated as a systemic pollutant, traceable agent, and form of capital.  Connected by a shared view of oil as systemic, elites in science, government, and industry are interacting to reorder the Gulf into a

naturalized web of ecological and economic processes. 

Based in ongoing

anthropological fieldwork tracing Gulf oil’s role in ruin and restoration, this talk explores how ecosystems are becoming governable forms of multidimensional transterritorial space. It follows how the political ecology of the contemporary Gulf is emerging through its political systematicity.   

Valerie Olson is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UC Irvine. Her work focuses on the political ecology of extreme and large scale environmental spaces, including outer space, marine areas, and watersheds. She is the author of Into the Extreme: Environmental Systems and Politics Beyond Earth (University of Minnesota Press 2018). 

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