Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Climate Solutions Lab

The Sociology of Fossil Fuels

University of Victoria


Summer 2018

Prof. JP Sapinski

Undergraduate seminar

Readings from Underrepresented groups

The main objective of this course is to understand the role fossil fuels play in mediating the metabolic relationship between human society and the other elements of the biosphere. Since the late 18 th century, a new way of producing commodities has emerged at the heart of the British Empire, mediated by the energy embodied in fossilized plants, and with it a new mode of relating to the biosphere. After providing some basic concepts to discuss how human groups relate to the biosphere, the course will trace back the origins of the use of fossil fuel energy in industrial production, and assess the key role this form of energy has played in the development of the capitalist economy. We will discuss in-depth how fossil fuel extraction and consumption have since then organized capitalist society in all its aspects, with special emphasis on the multiple ways individual and corporate agency inserts itself within broad scale economic, political and ecological structural processes. The second half of the course will address current issues of fossil fuel expansion, and the political and cultural influence of the sector in Canada and elsewhere. In counterpoint to corporate agency, we will also examine the growing movements of resistance and opposition to fossil fuel expansion, as well as the varied and contending proposals for a transition away from fossil fuels and toward an economy based on renewable energy.