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Lifeblood

Oil, Freedom, and the Forces of Capital

2013
Author:

Matthew T. Huber

Lifeblood

Using oil to retell twentieth-century American political history

Looking beyond the usual culprits, Lifeblood finds a deeper and more complex explanation in everyday practices of oil consumption in American culture. Matthew T. Huber uses oil to retell American political history from the triumph of New Deal liberalism to the rise of the New Right, from oil’s celebration as the lifeblood of postwar capitalism to increasing anxieties over oil addiction.

Lifeblood offers a radically alternative way of thinking about ‘cheap oil’ and ‘oil addiction’ and in so doing peers beneath the liquid surfaces of petroleum to see how the long century of American oil consumption has been central to the rise of American neoliberalism itself. An original and masterful account of oil in contemporary American capitalism.

Michael Watts, University of California, Berkeley

If our oil addiction is so bad for us, why don’t we kick the habit? Looking beyond the usual culprits—Big Oil, petro-states, and the strategists of empire—Lifeblood finds a deeper and more complex explanation in everyday practices of oil consumption in American culture. Those practices, Matthew T. Huber suggests, have in fact been instrumental in shaping the broader cultural politics of American capitalism.

How did gasoline and countless other petroleum products become so central to our notions of the American way of life? Huber traces the answer from the 1930s through the oil shocks of the 1970s to our present predicament, revealing that oil’s role in defining popular culture extends far beyond material connections between oil, suburbia, and automobility. He shows how oil powered a cultural politics of entrepreneurial life—the very American idea that life itself is a product of individual entrepreneurial capacities. In so doing he uses oil to retell American political history from the triumph of New Deal liberalism to the rise of the New Right, from oil’s celebration as the lifeblood of postwar capitalism to increasing anxieties over oil addiction.

Lifeblood rethinks debates surrounding energy and capitalism, neoliberalism and nature, and the importance of suburbanization in the rightward shift in American politics. Today, Huber tells us, as crises attributable to oil intensify, a populist clamoring for cheap energy has less to do with American excess than with the eroding conditions of life under neoliberalism.

Lifeblood

Matthew T. Huber is assistant professor of geography at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.

Lifeblood

Lifeblood offers a radically alternative way of thinking about ‘cheap oil’ and ‘oil addiction’ and in so doing peers beneath the liquid surfaces of petroleum to see how the long century of American oil consumption has been central to the rise of American neoliberalism itself. An original and masterful account of oil in contemporary American capitalism.

Michael Watts, University of California, Berkeley

Compellingly presented and enlivened by fascinating archival research, Huber’s arguments about the ‘ecology of politics’ and the centrality of oil to the making of ‘entrepreneurial life’ are important and intriguing.

Gavin Bridge, Durham University

Lifeblood

Contents

Introduction: Oil, Life, Politics

1. The Power of Oil? Energy, Machines, and the Forces of Capital
2. Refueling Capitalism: Depression, Oil, and the Making of “the American Way of Life”
3. Fractionated Lives: Refineries and the Ecology of Entrepreneurial Life
4. Shocked! “Energy Crisis,” Neoliberalism, and the Construction of an Apolitical Economy
5. Pain at the Pump: Gas Prices, Life, and Death under Neoliberalism

Conclusion: Energizing Freedom

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index