Beyond Oil: The Meaning of U.S. Interests in the Middle East

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 9:20 AM
Conti Room (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Robert Vitalis, University of Pennsylvania
The substance of my remarks would follow from a key premise in a recent history of US policy, Imagining the Middle East. The premise, underpinning multiple historiographical generations, is that longstanding US interests in control of or access to oil are to be contrasted with those dimensions of policy that are more properly understood as culturally constituted through “a framework of meaning.” Yet what I want to discuss, using some exemplary works of the past few decades, is that this idea of access to oil is no less culturally constituted. In fact, it takes a great deal of work to make it seem both tangible and commonsensical when Its materiality is in fact a mirage. The very first writings by historians on oil and politics made this clear, but these powerful criticisms of common sense and professional (or what I have come to see as pseudo scientific) approaches to oil and foreign policy are forgotten today.