Video interview for the Climate Atlas of Canada

Petrocultures: Climate change, culture, and society

Energy transitions are often considered a scientific or technical issue. However, University of Waterloo’s Imre Szeman argues that climate change is fundamentally a cultural issue. He argues that responding to climate change requires a shift in the way we think about cars, energy, chemicals, over-consumption, and other aspects of the fossil-fuel dependent ‘petrocultures’ that permeate our everyday lives.

Watch Video

Interview for The Beam

Interview for The Beam

After Oil: Explorations and Experiments in the Future of Energy, Culture and Society

An interview about After Oil and the After Oil School project that brought it to life.

View Interview

Interview for George Mason University

What are the social implications of depending on fossil fuels?

In the second episode of the "Capitalism, Climate, and Culture" podcast series from GMU Cultural Studies, Amy Zhang interviews Imre Szeman. Szeman and Zhang discuss how, at the heart of the environmental crisis lies one key issue: we moderns are creatures of energy. Access to energy has allowed us to do remarkable things. However, the energy we’ve shaped our lives around is dirty energy. To be modern is to live a contradiction. Energy use expands possibilities; those same possibilities are threatened by the environmental and social implications of the expanding use of energy. How can we make sense of this contradiction and its implications for the present—and future?
Listen to the full interview here:

Read Transcript

Is Canada prepared for life after oil?

Global News

What does Alberta have to do to diversity its economy? What if oil never comes back? Imre speaks about steps to a transition in Canada's oil province.

Watch Now



Solarity! (feat. Darin Barney and Imre Szeman)

Imre and Darin Barney talk about After Oil 2: Solarity, a workshop held at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal May 23-25, 2019. They also discuss how best to imagine and enact positive solar futures.

Listen Now

Recent Reviews

A selection of reviews for Imre's books.

On Petrocultures: Globalization, Culture and Energy (2019)

A book of varied insights, On Petrocultures also establishes a central argument that is crucial to the present and future of cultural studies and the humanities more broadly, particularly as the reality of global warming becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. Szeman insists that methods of cultural analysis need to ‘recogniz[e] the role of cheap energy in freedom and democracy’—that is to say, the humanities need to acknowledge that contemporary political forms have emerged through and because of fossil fuels… Szeman’s collection is excellent and provocative from beginning to end.

ariel: A Review of International English Literature
On Petrocultures

On Petrocultures

Energy Humanities: An Anthology (co-edited with Dominic Boyer) (2017)

Explore[s] ways of thinking and talking about the environment more creatively, aiming to circumvent our denial and despair, so that we may learn how to dwell on the things that are disappearing, and to carry on living in the world they leave behind.

Times Literary Supplement

Energy Humanities will certainly become an invaluable companion for critics involved in interdisciplinary and environmental debates, such as postcolonial ecocriticism and material ecocriticism. For the literary-minded, the book illustrates the mutually enriching dialogue between the sciences and cultural studies. Although energy humanities is still a burgeoning field of enquiry, this anthology reveals how a thorough (re)examination of our enmeshment with energy sources is both useful and necessary at a time when we are already experiencing an environmental catastrophe.

A Review of International English Literature

Energy Humanities is an ambitious and stimulating collection that will assist the reader in understanding the importance of explicitly engaging with energy across the arts, humanities and social sciences. It is equally suited for undergraduate students and advanced academics who are interested in exploring the fecundity of interdisciplinary discussion and creative critique.

Capitalism Nature Socialism

Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment (co-edited with Jennifer Wenzel and Patricia Yaeger) (2017)

Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment… is perhaps the most generative and forward-looking collection in the first wave of energy humanities scholarship. Its wide and imaginative scope casts the field far beyond its origin in petroleum, with entries on such keywords as "tallow," "plastiglomerate," "off-grid," "superhero comics," and "shame." Working with very specific examples drawn from across multiple scales, energy sources, genres, and affects is a good way to ground energy, which is all too often reduced to a gauzy abstraction.

Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities

The emerging language of the energy humanities – itself a recent coinage – is compellingly interrogated in Fuelling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment, a substantial volume running alphabetically from ‘Aboriginal’ to ‘Work’ and encompassing new engagements with familiar critical territory – ‘Nature’, ‘Gender’, ‘Utopia’ – as well as reflections on some distinctive energetic terminology – ‘Off-grid’, ‘Petrorealism’, ‘Plastiglomerate’. It is an ingenious conception for a book, a kind of oily version of Raymond Williams’ Keywords that serves as both a handy introduction to the field and an occasion for some absorbing original writing.

Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism

The compendium fuels the reader’s desire to consider and reconsider the ways in which we conceptualize the role of energy production and consumption in our work as much as our daily routines, and will likely prove an insightful and intellectually stimulating resource for scholars working in the area of energy and environment, regardless of discipline.

On Petrocultures

On Petrocultures

Petrocultures: Oil, Politics, Culture (co-edited with Sheena Wilson and Adam Carlson) (2017)

This interdisciplinary collection of papers includes diverse styles of argumentation: cultural studies, including the visual arts (e.g., Burtynsky’s photography and films); pulp fiction; poetry; a radio play; song lyrics; children’s videos; and literary criticism and social science analysis. A valuable introduction to the new field of energy humanities.


The book also offers a wealth of still-relevant insights into how oil shapes every aspect of the modern world, and how scholars in disciplines that have heretofore not occupied seats at the energy/climate table can join in the crucial work of rethinking modern humanity’s ways of powering our lives… I am happy to report that the field inaugurated by the contributors to Petrocultures is not advancing in the direction of hyperspecialization and ivory-tower-ism. Rather, it is moving towards greater public engagement, more robust interdisciplinarity, more inclusive internationalism, and more urgent attentiveness to the climate-wrecking impacts of fossil-fuel-powered life. Any scholar interested in making a difference in our overheating world would do well to get involved in the conversation, and studying Petrocultures would be an excellent way to start.

Canadian Literature

After Oil (co-written with the Petrocultures Research Group) (2016)

New knowledge is required to grapple with the most vexing problems of our day. And the integrative humanities are well poised to provide that knowledge.
Consider by way of illustration the work of the Petrocultures Research Group based at the University of Alberta, created to support research on the sociocultural dimensions of oil and energy use. Among its initiatives, a workshop held in August 2015 brought together 35 artists and researchers to ponder the challenges of thinking about a transition from fossil fuels to other forms of energy dependence in a society physical, materially and intellectually permeated by oil.
Making this transition, democratically and effectively, they reported in After Oil (published in 2016), was much more complicated than switching from one source of energy to another. It was not simply a technological problem: “since oil shapes our ideas and values as much as it does our infrastructures and economies,” they wrote, “an intentional energy transition will require us to think anew about wealth, beauty, community, success, and a host of other ideas.” We will need, in short, to change how we “think, imagine, see, and hear,” and there is no better set of disciplines than the humanities to help in imagining new possibilities.

Literary Review of Canada
On Petrocultures