Ten Propositions on Oil
Timothy Mitchell is the Ransford Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Columbia University. He teaches and writes about the politics of the Arab world, the making of economic ideas and other forms of expert knowledge, and the history and politics of energy. His books include Colonising Egypt; Rule of Experts: Egypt, Technopolitics, Modernity; and Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil.
Oil seems to dictate the terms with which we think about it. Since capitalism depends on it, we assume, supplies of oil have to be continually secured, bringing repeated risks of conflict and war. This energy determinism grants too much power to oil, and often says little about oil itself—how it is produced, shipped, used, and by whom. The first nine propositions outline alternative ways to approach the historical political economy of oil. The tenth asks how we can approach this subject in the face of catastrophic climate change. This is not a question of how history shapes our understanding of oil, but how oil has shaped our understanding of history.
Keywords: Petroleum, energy politics, OPEC, arms spending, oil firms, rentier state, climate crisis