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Title: Unconventional futures : anticipation, materiality, and the market in oil shale development
Author: Kama, Kärg
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis offers a political geography of unconventional energy development through a study of a particular fossil fuel resource called oil shale. Having long occupied a critical place in the politics and economy of certain states, most notably in Estonia, oil shale is now widely known as an ‘unconventional’ resource that is yet to become technically possible, commercially viable and socially acceptable to exploit. Following the movement through which oil shale becomes both unconventional and conventional, the thesis traces the resource through a series of geo-scientific, economic and political interventions. This study is based on analysis of technical literature and policy documents along with ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, and site visits conducted in Estonia, Colorado, Utah, Jordan, London and Brussels. Drawing together relational accounts of natural resources in political ecology and economic geography with insights from Science and Technology Studies, this project both contributes to critical research on the carbon economy and to recent debates on the concepts of materiality, anticipation, and marketization in social sciences. The thesis proposes a relational conceptualization of resource materiality, situating oil shale in multiple and conflicting forms which derive from geographically disparate practices in both resource assessment and technological development. The future of oil shale exploitation is not pre-determined by the process of global resource decline, nor is it precluded by international demands to move towards lower-carbon futures. Rather, it is determined through the conjunction of different future-oriented economic and political calculations that are entangled with resource materials and associated technological systems. Developing a non-essentialist account of markets as socio-technically distributed arrangements, the thesis argues that these rival calculations influence the design of market rules for both energy and emissions trading. The thesis concludes that what counts as ‘unconventional’ is not given, but continues to be both created and contested at the same time as it is ‘conventionalized’.
Supervisor: Barry, Andrew Sponsor: Archimedes Foundation ; Estonian Educational Trust ; St Catherine's College (University of Oxford)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Geography ; History of technology ; Technologies of politics and ecology ; Material anthropology ; Political economy of markets and states ; EU Law ; natural resources ; energy geographies ; energy politics ; oil shale ; unconventional oil ; futures ; materiality ; marketization ; Estonia ; Jordan ; Utah