Université d'Ottawa University of Ottawa Energy and Society. The

Université d’Ottawa
University of Ottawa
Faculté des sciences sociales
Sociologie et anthropologie
Faculty of Social Sciences
Sociology and Anthropology
Energy and Society. The Peak Oil Issue and the Prospect of Degrowth:
a Constructivist and Socio-Technical Analysis
SOC 7112
Stéphan Larose
Fall 2012
Lecture times: Thursday: 14:30-17:30 Social Science Building (FSS), Room 10003
Contact Information:
Office: Social Sciences Building, room 10062
Phone: 562-5800 xxx; leave a message on the voicemail.
Office Hours: Tuesday: 4-5pm
Thursday: 1-2pm
E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail policy: You are welcome to email me with pressing course issues to which I will
try to reply within two working days; however, discussions of course content material
should take place in class, or during office hours. Please note that I reserve the right to
not respond to an email if the level of language is not appropriate. Use email wisely.
Official Course Description:
In depth examination of an issue or question linked to new trends or research areas in
General Course Objectives:
This seminar explores the issue of peak oil and the societal ramifications of declining oil
and fossil fuel availability.
Peak oil refers to the moment when global oil production reaches its highest point and the
world has consumed half of its conventional oil resources, after which more and more
energy is required to extract a declining supply of lower quality. A core premise of this
course (which will be discussed in class) is how our western way of life, our
unprecedented prosperity on the scale of human history, and our very sociotechnical
civilization are all intrinsically linked to access to and utilization of cheap fossil fuel and
oil-based energy. Another core assumption (which will also be discussed) is that we have
yet to address and face the challenges presented, and to consider the societal changes
required by the end of cheap (fossil-fuel) energy.
So far, a somber and depressing diagnostic has been pronounced by many peak oil
researchers: inflation, recession, stagflation, massive bankruptcies and unemployment,
power outages, food shortages, ghettoization of suburbia, societal collapse, social
disintegration, end of globalization, wars for natural resources, etc. However, it should be
noted that none of these pessimistic predictions have been made by sociologists or social
scientists (except for a few economists and scholars from hybrid fields such as
environmental studies and urban studies), but by geologists, physicists, and other natural
scientists. Curiously, sociology has yet to enter into the debate.
The reasons for this will also be examined as well, but an obvious reason which should
be acknowledged right from the start is that the peak oil issue crosses many academic
disciplines: geology, physics, geophysics, petrophysics, chemistry, petrochemistry,
engineering, economics, urban and environmental studies, and yes sociology.
As a way in, two major theoretical approaches (pertaining to a multidisciplinary field of
research known as Science and Technology Studies or STS) will be introduced: the Social
Construction of Technology (SCOT) which studies how human choice and decisionmaking shape technology development; and Actor-Network Theory (ANT), or the
Sociology of Translation, which explores how sociotechnical elements are assembled and
how large-scale social structures work through networks of stabilized materials.
While the subject matter of this course may appear esoteric to some, no prior scientific
knowledge or technical expertise is assumed. The (theoretical) goal is to introduce
students to a new perspective on society, nature and technology, rooted in sociology and
anthropology, and to cross some of the assumed and traditional boundaries among
scientists, engineers, and social scientists.
In order to grasp the societal implications of an energy crisis of large and increasing
magnitude, and to understand some possible (oil-addicted Western) responses to a
situation of depleting quantity and quality of oil reserves, lectures will be mostly based
on a few selected case studies of previous energy crises: the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, the
oil shortage in Cuba following the fall of the USSR in the early 90s, the North-American
blackout of 2003, the oil shock of summer 2008, the decline of Easter Island, etc.
Required Readings:
Some readings will be posted on the Virtual Campus website for the course. Other
readings will be available from the library reserve. Completion of the required readings
prior to the seminar is mandatory.
Recommended Readings:
In addition to the required readings, I am including a few recommended and suggested
readings in the course outline (available online, or on Reserve at the library). I am
providing them as a resource for writing papers, and to support further investigation and
reading. Be sure to check the course website frequently for newly posted materials,
announcements, and updates on assignments.
While there is no required textbook for this class, two books worth having are:
Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through
Society, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1987.
Bruno Latour, Reassembling the social: an introduction to Actor–network theory, Oxford
University Press: New York, 2005.
It is further suggested that you keep yourself informed of new developments on the peak
oil issue by means of the two following websites:
ASPO International: http://www.peakoil.net/
The Oil Drum: http://www.theoildrum.com/
Requirements and Grading Scheme:
Class participation
Two in-class presentations
Research paper
Two in-class presentations: one presentation on one work from the Selected and
Provisional Bibliography (books Articles and Reports - to be decided in class; the second
presentation on the research paper (with a focus on the research proposal and outline).
Research Paper: a 15-25 pages long double-spaced paper. Potential topic ideas and
further instructions for researching and writing this paper will be provided in class.
Unless otherwise noted, it will be due on the last day that this class meets.
Class Organization, Procedures, and Expectations:
The seminar will be organized around lectures, documentaries, students’ presentations
and discussions. Students will be expected, and encouraged, to participate fully in
The PowerPoint slides for this course will be posted after each class on the course Web
site on Blackboard. The slides are, literally, only slides: they are not transcripts of the
actual lectures. To really benefit from the course, you should do your reading
assignments, and attend classes.
Note: the seminar is meant to be a community of scholars, pursuing not only independent
learning, but also benefiting from one another’s unique insights. As with all communities
however, there are certain standards of conduct that all students must accept. These
include: mutual respect among students, an acceptance of criticism of one’s own ideas, a
good measure of common civility… and lots of enthusiasm for ideas.
Since we will be dealing with a few controversial subjects upon which not all of us will
agree, I’m committed to fostering a safe environment for learning. Students should
always feel free to ask for clarifications on points that seem vague or ambiguous (they
may actually be doing a favour to their peers in doing so).
Academic dishonesty: All assignments you turn in for this class should be the products
of your own academic efforts. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense, and I will
prosecute it. Academic dishonesty entails disagreeable penalties to offenders. Students
should acquaint themselves with the University of Ottawa policies dealing with such
Lecture Schedule and Reading Assignments:
Note: The schedule is provisional, and may be adjusted or revised, as circumstances
dictate; we may spend more or less time on each topic than specified in the outline.
Should the schedule be adjusted or revised, changes will be announced in class.
Week 1 (Sept. 6): Introduction to the Course: Syllabus, Objectives, and
Week 2 (Sept. 13): Screening of The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse
of the American Dream (on (sub)urbanization, consumerism, fossil fuel addiction,
and the energy crisis)
Reading: Winner, L. "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" [Available in PDF on the course
Week 3 (Sept. 20): The Peak Oil Issue and Sociology: Why Sociology Hasn’t Joined
the Debate yet?; and What Can it Say About it? An Introduction to STS
Readings: Wajcman, J. (1999). “Introductory essay: the social shaping of technology,” in
D. MacKenzie & J. Wajcman, (eds.), The Social Shaping Of Technology. Philadelphia
and Milton Keynes: Open University Press, pp. 3-27.
Lambert, J. & G. (2011). "Predicting the Psychological Response of the American People
to Oil Depletion and Declining Energy Return on Investment (EROI)." Sustainability 3,
no. 11: 2129-2156. http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/3/11/2129/
Week 4 (Sept. 27): Introduction to Actor-Network Theory: Actors, Networks,
Humans, and Non-Humans
Reading: Johnson, J. (a.k.a. Bruno Latour), "Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together:
The Sociology of a Door-Closer". [Available in PDF on the course website]
Suggested: Latour, B. (1992), "Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few
Mundane Artifacts", in W. Bijker and J. Law (eds.). Shaping Technology/Building
Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change. Boston, MA: MIT Press, pp. 225-258.
(Extended version of the required reading)
Suggested: Callon, M. "The Sociology of an Actor-Network: The Case of the Electric
Vehicle" [Available in PDF on the course website]
Week 5 (Oct. 4): Unsustainable Actor-World: Screening of A Crude Awakening: The
Oil Crash
Week 6 (Oct. 11): Mitigation Strategies: Screening of The Power of Community:
How Cuba survived Peak Oil
Hirsch, R., Bezdek, R., Wendling, R. (February 2005). "Peaking Of World Oil
Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management". Science Applications
International Coporation/U.S.Department of Energy, National Energy Technology
Week 7 (Oct. 18): Class Presentations
Week 8 (Oct. 25): READING WEEK: NO CLASS
Week 9 (Nov. 1): Class Presentations
Week 10: (Nov. 8): Class Presentations
*Week 11 (Nov. 15): Class Presentations
*Week 12 (Nov. 22): Class Presentations
Week 13 (Nov. 29): Last day of class! Research Project Due
A word of advice: this course is reading and discussion intensive. In order to do well in it,
students must keep up with the readings and come to class prepared.
Selected and Provisional Bibliography (books):
Campbell, Colin J (2005). Oil Crisis. Multi-Science Publishing.
Goodstein David (2005). Out of Gas: The End of the Age Of Oil. WW Norton.
Heinberg, Richard and Leich, Daniel (2010). The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st
Centery Sustainability Crisis. Watershed Media.
Heinberg, Richard (2006). The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars,
Terrorism and Economic Collapse. New Society Publishers.
Heinberg, Richard (2004). Power Down: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World.
New Society Publishers.
Heinberg Richard (2003). The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies.
New Society Publishers.
Kunstler James H (2005). The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age,
Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes. Atlantic Monthly Press.
Leggett Jeremy K (2005). The Empty Tank: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and the Coming Financial
Catastrophe. Random House.
Leggett, Jeremy K (2005). Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis.
Portobello Books.
Leggett Jeremy K (2001). The Carbon War: Global Warming and the End of the Oil Era.
Newman, P., Beatly, T. Boyer, H (2009). Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and
Climate Change, Island Press: Washington.
Pfeiffer Dale Allen (2004). The End of the Oil Age. Lulu Press.
Roberts Paul (2004). The End of Oil. On the Edge of a Perilous New World. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin.
Ruppert Michael C (2005). Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire
at the End of the Age of Oil. New Society.
Simmons Matthew R (2005). Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and
the World Economy. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley & Sons.
Selected and Provisional Bibliography (Articles and Reports):
Alternative & Advanced Fuels, Alternative Fuels & Advanced Vehicles Data Center;
U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy: Washington, DC,
USA, 2010. Available online: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/fuels/index.html.
Bentley, R.W. Global oil & gas depletion: An overview. Energy Policy 2002, 30, 189205.
Billon, P.L., Khatib, F.E. From free oil to ‘freedom oil”: Terrorism, war, and US
Geopolitics in the persian gulf. Geopolitics 2004, 9, 109-137.
BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2010; BP: London, UK, 2010. Available
online: http://www.bp.com/statisticalreview.
Campbell, C., Laherrère, J. The end of cheap oil: Global production of conventional oil
will begin to decline sooner than most people think, probably within 10 years. Sci. Am.
1998, 278, 78-84.
Diamond, J. Easter’s End. Discover Magazine, 1 August 1995. Available online:
Huber, M.T. The use of gasoline: Value, oil, and the “American way of life”. Antipode
2009, 41, 465-486.
International Energy Statistics, Crude Oil Proved Reserves (Billion Barrels); U.S. Energy
Information Administration: Washington, DC, USA, 2009. Available online:
Jhaveri, N.J. Petroimperialism: US oil interests and the Iraq war. Antipode 2004, 36, 211.
Murphy, D., Hall, C. Energy return on investment, peak oil, and the end of economic
growth. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 2011, 1219, 52-72.
Special Issue “New Studies in EROI (Energy Return on Investment)”. Hall, C.A.S., Ed.;
Sustainability, in press. Available online: http://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability/
World Factbook: Saudi Arabia; U.S. Central Intelligence Agency: Washington, DC,
USA, 2010. Available online: http://www.cia.gov/library/index.html.
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