Natural Resources: History and Social Sciences

Block Seminar

Organised by Prof. Alexander Etkind and Prof. Stéphane Van Damme
3-4 March 2016, Sala Europa and 7 March 2016, Seminar Room Mansarda 
Admin. Assistant: Miriam Curci


Seminar description

In the long history of political economy, natural resources have been considered as a part of the environment that people can extract and exploit. The general assumption is that we do not make natural resources - we gather them. Wood, water, coal, iron, oil, hydro-electricity, uranium and, today, energy of the wind and sun are considered as passive components of nature. In the late 19th century environmentalism and the science of economics, the idea that natural resources such as coal were limited and non-renewable became the main concern. However, new needs, and technologies changed the definition of natural resources during the 20th century. Complex relations between resources, labour, and power – between extraction, production, and the state – are coming to the forefront of political debates and historical studies. of between In the last two decades, environmental history and history of sciences have pointed out the making of natural resources as the force that control definitions and ontologies of such products. Natural resources are the results of historically specific practices of laboratory techniques, instruments, methods of observing, modes of calculating, regimes of classification, but also of politics of energy and market practices. By emphasizing the cultural, social, economic and scientific constructions, social scientists and history encourage a critical debate about the consumption of nature in our modern societies.

This block seminar serves as an introduction to the field of Environmental History, history of science and Science and Technology Studies from a interdisciplinary perspective.  It is designed to give researchers an overview of the main issues, mapping the new territories in relations to questions pertaining to the  studies of state, politics, law, economy and the environment.

The block seminar has three principal aims: (1) to provide researchers with a critical introduction to environmental issues ; (2) to encourage researchers to think beyond national and European boundaries and see, through science, expertise and technological studies, the interconnectedness of Europe and its global framework; (3) to invite researchers to address questions of ‘knowledge and power’.

The module will be taught with the active participation of researchers and Max Weber fellows, through keynotes, panels and round-tables over three days. 


Thursday, 3 March 2016: Renegotiating  Natural Resources as historical objects


10:00-13:00, Session 1: Historiographical shifts and Introduction
(Stéphane Van Damme)

  • 'From Natural Resources to Anthropocene: some views from History of Science and Environmental History perspectives'


  • Fredrik Albritton Johnson, 'The Origins of Cornucopianism: a preliminary genealogy', Critical Historical Studies, Vol. 1, n°1, Spring 2014, pp. 151-168.
  • Timothy Mitchell, 'Carbon Democracy', Economy and Society, 2009
  • Bruno Latour, 'Telling Friends from the Foes in the Time of Anthropocene', Clive Hamilton, Christophe Bonneuil & François Gemenne (editors). The Anthropocene and the Global Environment Crisis – Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch, London, Routledge, p.145-155


  • Towards a global history of natural resources

Muriam Davis (EUI, Max Weber Fellow), "Turning Fellahs into Farmers: The Question of 'Muslim' Agriculture in French Algeria."


14:30-16:30, Session 2: Political Economies of Natural Resources
(Alexander Etkind)


  • Richard Cantillon, An Essay on Economic Theory (1730), part 2, ch.6-8, part 3 ch.1 “On Foreign Trade”.
  • Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power. (Penguin 1986) selected chapters
  • Michael Ross. Oil Curse (New York 2012) (chapter 1)
  • Alexander Etkind, “Russia from the Fur Trade to Carbon Aristocracy”
  • Alexander Etkind, “Putin’s Russia: An Exemplary Case of Hyper-Extractive State” 


Friday, 4 March 2016: The agency of Natural Resources


10.00-13:00, Session 3: The Power of Things (I): Oil and Electricity in the Middle East

  • Guillemette Crouzet (EUI, Max Weber Fellow), "A land of oil and violence: oil exploration and British imperial project in the Bakhtiari lands at the beginning of the 20th century".

  • Nida Alhamad (EUI), Illuminating a State: Statebuilding and Electricity in Occupied Iraq


  • Nida Alahmad. « Rewiring a State: The techno-politics of CPA’s Iraq ». Middle East Report 266, Spring 2013. 
  • Donald MacKenzie, Fabian Muniesa and Lucia Siu, “Introduction,” (pg 1-19)  in MacKenzie, Muniesa and Siu?” in Do Economists Make Markets? On the Performativity of Economics, ed. Donald MacKenzie, Fabian Muniesa and Lucia Siu (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007).
  • Francis Fukuyama, “The Imperative of State-Building,” Journal of Democracy 15, no. 2 (2004).


14:00-16:00, Session 4: The Power of Things (II): Administrating Water

  • Special Guest: Alice Ingold (EHESS, Paris), “To Historicize or Naturalize Nature : Hydraulic Communities and Administrative States in Nineteenth-Century Europe"


  • Alice Ingold, 'To Historicize or Naturalize Nature : Hydraulic Communities and Administrative States in Nineteenth-Century Europe', French Historical Studies 2009 (vol. 32, n° 3) : 385-417
  • Alice Ingold, 'Écrire la nature. De l’histoire sociale à la question environnementale ?', Annales HSS, janvier-mars 2011 (1), p. 11-29.


16:30-18:00, Session 5: The power of Scales: Transnational History of Nuclearity

  • Special guest: Karena Kalmbach, Berlin (Freie Universität, Berlin), ‘Revisiting the nuclear age. On the state of the art of research in nuclear history’


  • Gabrielle Hecht, “The Power of Nuclear Things,” Technology and Culture 51 (January 2010): 1-30.
  • Gabrielle Hecht, 'Africa and the Nuclear World', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 2009, 51 (4), 896-926.


Monday, 7 March 2016: Natural Resources and Social Sciences


14:00-18:00, Session 6: Anthropology of oil in Russia (Siberia)

  • Special Guest: Douglas Rogers (Yale University)
  • Discussants: Andreas Dugstad (EUI, HEC), Riccardo Chesta (EUI, SPS)


  • Douglas Rogers 2015. The Depths of Russia: Oil, Power, and Culture after Socialism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Douglas Rogers 2012 The Materiality of the Corporation: Oil, Gas, and Corporate Social Technologies in the Remaking of a Russian Region. American Ethnologist 39(2): 284-296.
  • Douglas Rogers, “Oil and Anthropology”. Annual Review of Anthropology, 2015, 44:365-80. 
  • Douglas Rogers, “Petrobarter:
Oil, Inequality, and the Political Imagination in and after the Cold War”, Current Anthropology, 2014, 55/2
  • Dominic Boyer, “Energopower: An Introduction”. Anthropological Quarterly, Volume 87, Number 2, Spring 2014, pp. 309-333
  • Timothy Mitchell, “Carbon Democracy.” Economy and Society, 2009, 38/3, 399-432
  • Michael Watts, “A Tale of Two Gulfs: Life, Death, and Dispossession along Two Oil Frontiers”, American Quarterly, 64/3, 2012, pp. 437-467
  • Hannah Appel, “Offshore work: Oil, modularity, and the how of capitalism in Equatorial Guinea”, American Ethnologist, 2012, 39/4, 692-709.


Page last updated on 17 June 2020

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