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Petropolitics in the Countries of the South

Pétropolitiques aux Suds

Petropólis en los países del Sur

Revue internationale des études du développement n°250 (2022-3)

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Published on Tuesday, October 26, 2021 by Lucie Choupaut

Summary

For this special issue, we consider a broad approach to the world of hydrocarbons, ranging from economics to cultural issues, and including history, politics, demography, sociology, and anthropology. Our aim is to go beyond a conception that reduces oil-producing countries to black boxes with outgoing flows of oil and gas and incoming financial flows, thus boiling everything down to this single (economic, political, and geopolitical) issue. Before causing global warming, oil had an in situ impact on territories, human communities, and ecosystems. This approach calls for a critical rereading of the abundant literature on the oil-producing countries of the South, in order to tackle oil-related phenomena differently, to identify new connections between them, and to examine those which are only little or not studied.

Announcement

Argument

In memory of Paula Vasquez[1]

For this special issue, we consider a broad approach to the world of hydrocarbons, ranging from economics to cultural issues, and including history, politics, demography, sociology, and anthropology. Our aim is to go beyond a conception that reduces oil-producing countries to black boxes with outgoing flows of oil and gas and incoming financial flows, thus boiling everything down to this single (economic, political, and geopolitical) issue. Indeed, from exploration and discovery to production, domestic consumption, and/or export, etc., the oil chain has multifold impacts on the economy, the state and public policies, society, territories, populations, lifestyles, production, consumption, and supply methods, but also social and political struggles. The approach favored here, which we refer to as "Petropolitics", as an extension of the concept of “petrocultures” in Wilson et al. (2017), consists in considering oil as a “total social fact” and examining its different manifestations. Beyond an immaterial rent in the financial sphere, discussing oil leads to considering the reality of a dirty, polluting substance, in which oil men and women, oil towns (Vasquez, 2019), and oil populations and countries are stuck because their survival depends on it, and are likely to be left with nothing if this resource is abandoned. Before causing global warming, oil had an in situ impact on territories, human communities, and ecosystems. This approach calls for a critical rereading of the abundant literature on the oil-producing countries of the South, in order to tackle oil-related phenomena differently, to identify new connections between them, and to examine those which are only little or not studied. 

From the resource curse to the energy transition

The interest of the social sciences for the topic of oil and gas[2] in the exporting countries of the South has mainly focused on the effects that these resources have on states and economies, in terms on the one hand of the redistribution of wealth in boom times, which create the illusion of development and prosperity yet produce significant social inequalities, and on the other hand of oil shocks which destabilize regimes and strain economies. These questions have been analyzed in depth in the fields of economics and political science, in particular through the theories of the oil rent (Sid Ahmed, 1988), the resource curse (Lynn 1997; Smith, 2007; Ross, 2013), and the Dutch Disease (Corden, 1984). However, the systematization and trivialization of these notions have resulted in oversimplification, with for instance studies that tend to link everything to rent (Talahite, 2012), thus contributing to overlooking other dimensions and other determinants of the phenomenon.

Some have tried to go beyond the reductionism stemming from the generalization of these theories by increasing the number of case studies and comparisons between countries. Smith (2007) compares oil policies in Iran and Indonesia, while Thad Dunning (2008) draws on detailed country case studies and field studies in Latin America and Africa. Terry Lynn Karl (1997), who broadened the scope of her study to include regimes as different as Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria, Algeria, and Indonesia, concludes that oil-producing countries, although seemingly disparate, are characterized by similar social classes and models of collective action. The comparative studies presented by McNeish and Logan (2012) extend from Northern Europe to the Caucasus, and from the Gulf of Guinea to Latin America.

Beyond empirical studies, authors have tried to innovate on a theoretical level. Terry Lynn Karl (1997) combines a structural approach and choice-based analysis to shed light on how the decisions of political authorities are embedded in institutions that interact with national and international markets. Her approach, which she calls “structured contingency,” starts from a state’s cutting-edge sector to identify a series of decision-making choices, and leads to examining the dynamics of the state itself. She sheds light on the multiple – economic, political, and social – factors that determine the nature of petro-states, from the coherence of public bureaucracies to the degree of centralization and policymaking patterns. Benjamin Smith (2007) views these resources as a political opportunity rather than a mere structural variable. Thad Dunning (2008) uses game theory and statistical modeling to construct and test a theory that explains political variations among resource-rich states. However, these theoretical innovations have remained marginal and have not fundamentally disrupted the social science approach to hydrocarbon-related phenomena.

Much of the literature agrees on the unsustainability of rentier states. Politically, it suggests that rent weakens institutions and undermines the rule of law. Political science has studied the relationship between oil and political regimes (autocracy vs democracy), and many authors have established a causal link between the oil rent and authoritarianism. Others have questioned this idea, which they regard as a commonplace. For Thad Dunning (2008), similarly to other forms of mineral wealth, oil may promote authoritarianism and democracy through different mechanisms; understanding them can help determine which of these effects will prevail. However, here again, the democracy/autocracy couple is reductive. Terry Lynn Karl (1997) tries to shift this opposition to show how dependence on oil destabilizes regimes by strengthening interests linked to this resource and weakening the capacity of the state to the detriment of the art of governing. Benjamin Smith (2007) emphasizes the role of state and opposition actors in the use of these resources, and shows that their impact on a regime’s policy and sustainability vary according to the circumstances under which oil exports became an important part of the economy.

Timothy Mitchell (2013) contends that “democratic” political regimes have been largely determined by the geophysical ownership of the major carbon energies: coal first and then oil. According to him, coal was at the origin of the first modern-era democracies, through the power which it gave its producers, thus allowing them to create unions and mass parties. To bypass these established networks and powers, the ruling classes organized an energy transition on a global scale thanks to oil. Another regime which relied on oil thus came into existence: social peace and prosperity in Western “democracies” were based on “Middle Eastern authoritarianism,” and the objective of unlimited growth became a religion. Stating that this system is on the verge of collapse, Timothy Mitchell wonders whether post-oil energies will give rise to truly democratic regimes. However, his analysis focuses on Western countries, and he only sees producing countries through the reductive prism of “Middle Eastern authoritarianism.” However, the reality of these countries is more complex, as can be seen with the case of Venezuela (Vasquez, 2019; Strønen, 2012; Coronil, 1997).

Until recently, the post-oil problem referred to the depletion of easily exploitable oil reserves, due to the increase in the marginal cost of a barrel to the extent that it would no longer be economically profitable to extract oil. However, this time has been postponed again and again thanks to the discovery of new deposits, technical progress, and more recently, the exploitation of shale oil and gas. Moreover, even though the cost of renewables has decreased, they still cannot compete with traditional fossil fuels. Nonetheless, global warming and, more broadly, the rapid worsening of the harmful effects of carbon energies on the environment across the planet have heightened the awareness that the energy transition is urgent. Based on modeling technological changes in transportation, Reda Cherif et al. (2021) predict that oil as primary fuel may have a much shorter lifespan than expected. The resulting drop in demand would not be offset by the demand for the other uses of oil. On the contrary, technological advances, substitutes for plastics and oil in the industry, and off-road transport could almost entirely suppress the demand for oil. The transition could even be accelerated by surging prices resulting from a short-term imbalance between supply and demand, due to underinvestment in oil. These authors consider that the expected growth in emerging economies (in particular, India and China) may not prevent the decline of oil. This situation, which is a game changer for the oil-producing countries of the South, calls for a radical change of approach (Olawuyi, 2022). From now on, it is no longer a question of adjustments, or even of a simple “diversification” of their exports, but of a fundamental restructuring of their economic model based on the export of hydrocarbons.

The economic approach in the producing countries of the South has long been dominated by the issue of oil dependency. These countries’ need to reduce their external dependence was first formulated as a development objective, in the continuity of the fight against colonial extractivism. This view was then relayed by international financial institutions, which made the diversification of exports a leitmotif against the financial and structural imbalances caused by the dependence, even if it paradoxically meant recommending that extraction be extended to other natural resources.

Today, the imperative of the energy transition has made it an issue that goes well beyond the interests of the countries concerned, given that institutions, organizations, and even certain states involved in this fight at the international level actively oppose investing in hydrocarbons in the name of environmental protection and of the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This has made the South react, especially in Africa, insofar as this trend penalizes the economies of countries that are not responsible for global warming. Thus, experts from the South consider that, even if these countries embark on the energy transition, they must be able to consolidate their hydrocarbon production capacities, both to finance their development and to ensure their energy security.

Abandoning oil has significant political and socio-economic implications. Yet here again, the issue of the energy transition is generally considered from the point of view of rich countries, which are large energy consumers, in terms of transforming their consumption and production methods. Such transformation is often expensive and requires a high level of technological innovation, which is rarely found in the countries of the south, for which, similarly to coal, oil could become the “energy of the poor.”

Approaching oil as a “total social fact” that has marked modernity in producing countries

For this special issue, we consider a broad approach to the world of hydrocarbons, ranging from economics to cultural issues, and including history, politics, demography, sociology, and anthropology. Our aim is to go beyond a conception that reduces oil-producing countries to black boxes with outgoing flows of oil and gas and incoming financial flows, thus boiling everything down to this single (economic, political, and geopolitical) issue. Indeed, from exploration and discovery to production, domestic consumption, and/or export, etc., the oil chain has multifold impacts on the economy, the state and public policies, society, territories, populations, lifestyles, production, consumption, and supply methods, but also social and political struggles. The problematization of the socio-cultural aspects of oil and the hydrocarbon industry has proved an original way of approaching these questions (Wilson et al., 2017; Ross & Worden, 2014). Consumerism, exuberance, and sudden urbanization: little is known about the social stakes – through work, space, and the economy – faced by the populations linked to oil.

On the one hand, oil is a source of energy that has created the material conditions for contemporary economies, world trade, population growth, and rural-urban migration. At the same time, it is a source of wealth that has shaped the power of the state in oil-producing countries. On the other hand, hydrocarbons are associated with representations of a world of the mighty, dominated by obscure interests, in spaces that are both closed off for security reasons and hermetic to the public debate. Consequently, studies on oil and the ethnography of this type of social environment bear a kind of burden, a stigma in the cultural imaginary: an energy mode that must be overcome, but has repeatedly failed to be so. Modernity in these countries is intrinsically linked to the hydrocarbon sector and to its effects on all the areas of social life. This special issue aims in particular to explore what has led the countries that developed with oil to a different “modernization” than the ones that became industrialized with coal and were then “reshaped” by oil, such as Great Britain (Marriott, 2021; McNeish & Logan, 2012).

The approach favored here, which we refer to as Petropolitics, as an extension of the concept of “petrocultures” in Wilson et al. (2017), consists in considering oil as a “total social fact” and examining its different manifestations. Beyond an immaterial rent in the financial sphere, discussing oil leads to considering the reality of a dirty, polluting substance, in which oil men and women, oil towns (Vasquez, 2019), and oil populations and countries are stuck because their survival depends on it, and are likely to be left with nothing if this resource is abandoned. Before causing global warming, oil had an in situ impact on territories, human communities, and ecosystems. This approach calls for a critical rereading of the abundant literature on the oil-producing countries of the South, in order to tackle oil-related phenomena differently, to identify new connections between them, and to examine those which are only little or not studied. For example, the way in which individuals, institutions, and societies adapt and reinvent themselves in a context dominated by the oil industry. Or yet again, the existence in producing countries of powerful public and/or private oil and gas lobbies, which are connected with multinationals in the hydrocarbon sector, of client states, and other international networks, which slow down the energy transition and the diversification of production and exports (Manley & Heller, 2021; Heller & Mihalyi, 2019).

An approach through three lines of inquiry

To guide the contributions to this issue, we propose three lines of inquiry, it being understood that a submission could possibly fit into several lines. It is strongly advised to include case studies and/or international comparisons.

The sustainability of the political, economic, and social models of the oil-producing countries of the South

  • Questioning the management policies of hydrocarbon resources and their effects on the economic, social, and environmental development of producing and exporting countries. Do societies based on the economic dependence on fossil fuels generate human vulnerability? How does this dependence translate into political systems, governance, the inclusion/exclusion of populations, an import-based agro-food model, employment policies, and migration policies? How well have individuals, economies, and societies coped and adapted?
  • Has the redistribution of oil resources significantly reduced inequalities, or on the contrary, in some cases contributed to widening them or even created new ones? The aim will be to analyze and compare the experience of the oil-producing countries of the South in terms of the distribution of oil revenues through subsidies, whether direct (support prices for staple foods, energy, water, and transport) or indirect (public spending on housing, employment, health, education, infrastructure, and industry). Although these public policies have been guided by egalitarian arguments, how have they led to an unsustainable model of inequalities? How can they be reformed and what are the alternatives? Will the problem of oil and poverty be solved when this manna dries up?
  • The stakes of the energy transition for the oil-producing countries of the South: how can the energy transition be promoted in an oil-producing country while its entire economic, political, and social model is based on fossil fuels? Which forces are in its favor and which actively oppose it (local oil and gas, automotive, and plastics lobbies, and their international ties)? Are all the countries at the same stage; which have already started this transition and are on this path; what do latecomers risk? How could the energy transition affect petropolitics in the South? Will it decrease inequalities, or on the contrary increase them and/or create new ones?

The specific knowledge developed in/by the oil-producing countries of the South to cope with the massive impact of oil, and the institutions resulting from this knowledge

  • The knowledge of decision-makers and managers: the management of state finances, foreign trade, and currency in the face of the economic, financial, and monetary effects of fluctuations in demand, price volatility, and bullish or bearish shocks. What means do the oil-producing countries of the South have to absorb shocks, or even to anticipate them (counter-cyclical policies); how do they adapt their policies and institutions to shocks, in particular their growth and economic development policies? Knowledge and technical skills in the hydrocarbon sector, legal knowledge (contracts and disputes). Loss of this knowledge due to the brain drain (Venezuela, Algeria, etc.).
  • Popular knowledge: how to benefit from booms and cope with the devastating consequences of bearish shocks? Knowledge stemming from having experienced the rapid and brutal transformations caused by hydrocarbon exploitation.

The transformation of territories and the social and political struggles related to oil

  • Oil towns, industrial zones, pollution, environmental disasters, labor market areas, and labor migration. Trade union and social struggles linked to the hydrocarbon sector; gas and oil lobbies; struggles for a sharing of the rent; struggles to defend the health and environment of the populations and territories affected by oil (for instance, the movement against the exploitation of shale gas in southern Algeria); struggles for employment and working conditions in the oil sector and the other sectors that depend on it (in a broad sense); the fight against corruption and to hold leaders accountable. The organizations resulting from these struggles.
  • Oil, colonization, postcolonial issues, and the coloniality of the world of hydrocarbons: what happened to the links established by colonization and empires in oil countries after their independence? Were they severed, or have they been maintained and transformed? Contracts, markets, networks and lobbies, mercenaries, and oil-related political interference and wars; oil and postcolonial armies. The historical role of “anti-colonial oil elites” in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Algeria, and Libya (Dietrich, 2017).

Submission details

The authors agree to read the editorial policy of the Revue internationale des études du développement and to comply with the code of ethics.

The selection process will take place according to the dates specified in the publication calendar below.

  1. Submitting the proposal

The proposals in French, English, or Spanish must present the paper in 4,000 characters (with spaces), or approximately one page. The file for the proposal must be entitled “AUTHOR’S SURNAME-Proposal-250,” and must include:

  • a title (70 characters maximum, with the possibility of adding a subtitle);
  • an abstract detailing the research question, the theoretical framework, the fieldwork, and the main results;
  • some bibliographical references (not included in the character count);
  • a file entitled “AUTHOR’S SURNAME-250-info,” including the author’s first name and last name, their status, their institutional affiliation, and their email address.

The relevancy of the proposals with regard to this call for papers and their conformity to the journal guidelines will be verified by the journal editors and the editorial team.

The proposals must be submitted by December, 13, 2021 to:

- the editorial office: revdev@univ-paris1.fr

- the editors:

The authors preselected by the editors and the editorial committee will be notified by the editorial team the week of December 13, 2021.

  1. Submitting the paper

The authors whose proposals have been selected will be invited to send a first draft of their article, which must absolutely follow the guidelines below. The articles will then be submitted to a double blind peer review by two external reviewers who are experts on the topic.

The articles (45,000 characters with spaces, excluding the abstract and references) may be written in French, English, or Spanish. They must be original work. They may however have been presented at a conference (with proceedings), as long as they have been adapted to the format required by the Revue internationale des études du développement (see the guidelines for authors on the blog for the publications of the IEDES), but the author must not submit their paper to another journal simultaneously.

The first draft (V1), following the journal’s guidelines for authors, must be submitted by the authors to the three aforementioned email addresses by February 25, 2022.

The evaluation process will take a few months; each – anonymous – article will be submitted to a double blind peer review by two external reviewers who are experts on the topic. Requesting a first version of the article does not constitute a commitment on the part of the journal to publish the aforementioned article, which must be approved by the editorial committee, following the different steps in the evaluation process; no. 250 is expected to be published in November 2022.

The authors agree to comply with the calendar.

Editors

  • Fatiha Talahite (talahite@cnrs.fr), economist, researcher at CNRS, GTM-Cresppa, France
  • Brenda Rousset Yepez (brendayepez@gmail.com), socio-demographer, professor at Universidad Central de Venezuela

References

Bento, N. & Wilson, C. (2016). Measuring the duration of formative phases for energy technologies. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 21, 95–112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2016.04.004

Cherif R, Hasanov, F. & Pand, A. (2021). Riding the Energy Transition: Oil beyond 2040. Asian Economic Policy Review 16, 117–137. https://doi.org/10.1111/aepr.12317

Clark, P. (2016). Renewables jump 70 per cent in shift away from fossil fuels. Financial Times, August 14. Retrieved October 04, 2016. https://www.ft.com/content/67b20418-60cc-11e6-ae3f-77baadeb1c93

Corden, W. M. (1984). Booming Sector and Dutch Disease Economics: Survey and Consolidation. Oxford Economic Papers, 36(3), 359–380. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2662669

Coronil, F. (1997). The Magical State. Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela. University of Chicago Press.

Dietrich, C.R.W. (2017). Oil Revolution: Anticolonial Elites, Sovereign Rights, and the Economic Culture of Decolonization, Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316717493

Dunning, T. (2008). Crude Democracy: Natural Resource Wealth and Political Regimes. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511510052

Heller, P. R. & Mihalyi, D. (2019). Massive and Misunderstood Data-Driven Insights into National Oil Companies, NRGI. https://resourcegovernance.org/sites/default/files/documents/massive_and_misunderstood_data_driven_insights_into_national_oil_companies.pdf

McNeish, J.A, Logan, O.J. (2012). Flammable Societies. Studies on the Socio-Economics of Oil and Gas, Pluto Press.

Manley D., Heller P.R. (2021). Risky Bet. National Oil Companies in the Energy Transition, NRGI. https://resourcegovernance.org/sites/default/files/documents/risky-bet-national-oil-companies-in-the-energy-transition.pdf

Marriott, J. & Macalister T. (2021). Crude Britannia: How Oil Shaped a Nation, Plutopress.

Mitchell, T. (2011). Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. Verso.

Olawuyi, D. S. (Ed.). (2022). Climate Change Law and Policy in the Middle East and North Africa Region, Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003044109

Ross, B. & Worden, D. (2014). Oil Culture, University of Minnesota Press.

Ross, L. M. (2012). The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations. Princeton University Press.

Salas, M.T. (2009). The enduring legacy: oil, culture, and society in Venezuela. Duke University Press.

Sid Ahmed, A. (1988). Vers une théorie de l'industrialisation à partir de l'exportation et de la transformation des ressources naturelles : de la « staple theory » à la rente pétrolière. Tiers-Monde, 29(115), 715-812. https://doi.org/10.3406/tiers.1988.3718

Smith, B. (2007). Hard Times in the Lands of Plenty: Oil Politics in Iran and Indonesia. ‎ Cornell University Press.

Strønen, I. (2012). Development from below and oil money from above. Popular organization in contemporary Venezuela. In McNeish, J.A, Logan, O.J. (Eds.). Flammable Societies. Studies on the Socio-Economics of Oil and Gas (133-155). Pluto Press.

Terry Lynn, K. (1997). The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States. University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520918696

Talahite, F. (2012). La rente et l'État rentier recouvrent-ils toute la réalité de l'Algérie d'aujourd'hui ?. Revue Tiers Monde, 210, 143-160. https://doi.org/10.3917/rtm.210.0143

Vasquez, P. (2019). Venezuela, pays hors service, ‎ Buchet Chastel.

Wilson, S., Carlson, A. & Szeman, I. (2017). Petrocultures: Oil, Politics, Culture, McGill-Queen's University Press.

Notes

[1] In homage to Paula Vasquez,  anthropologist, research scientist at the CNRS, who left us prematurely on March 22, 2021.

[2] At this level of generalization, we refer to oil and gas without distinction, with the understanding that these two energy sources differ in many respects.


Date(s)

  • Monday, December 13, 2021

Keywords

  • pétropolitique, sud, ressource, pétrole, gaz, hydrocarbure, rente, transition énergétique, politique, territoire, lutte sociale

Contact(s)

  • Béatrice Trotier-Faurion
    courriel : sr [dot] revdev [at] univ-paris1 [dot] fr

Information source

  • Béatrice Trotier-Faurion
    courriel : sr [dot] revdev [at] univ-paris1 [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Petropolitics in the Countries of the South », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, October 26, 2021, https://calenda.org/927020

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