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Petro-Sexuality: Histories of Oil and Intimacy

General Programming

dateApril 7, 2022 timeThursday, 5:00pm–6:30pm EDT location Fayerweather Hall, Room 411, Columbia University
  • This event will be held in person and open to Columbia affiliates only.

  • Columbia Research Initiative on the Global History of Sexualities
email address [email protected]
  • No registration necessary
B&W photo of dark-skinned men in work clothes changing shift at the Lago Refinery on Aruba, 1944, photo by Nelson Morris

In recent years, energy humanities scholars have highlighted how the ability to do biopolitical work – to discipline the body and regulate populations – has relied on the availability of fossil fuels. The Caribbean has played a vital if also understudied role in the hydrocarbon age, transforming intimate selves and sensibilities in the process. This talk explores the interconnections among the histories of sexuality and the age of oil. Focusing on Aruba and Curaçao, islands that once housed the world’s largest oil refineries, it charts how transnational oil companies introduced peculiar forms of sexual and reproductive regulation intended to maximize oil revenues and discipline Caribbean subjects. Building on extensive archival research in the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States, Schields insists that global energy systems cannot be understood without attention to the sexual and racialized interventions that fueled their emergence.

Chelsea Schields is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. Her scholarship explores the histories of sexuality, race, and the politics of oil and empire in the Caribbean and Europe. With Dagmar Herzog, she is co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Sexuality and Colonialism (2021). Her book, Offshore Attachments: Oil and Intimacy in the Caribbean, is forthcoming with the University of California Press.