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Energizing Neoliberalism

The 1970s Energy Crisis and the Making of Modern America

Caleb Wellum

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How the 1970s energy crisis facilitated a neoliberal shift in US political culture.

In Energizing Neoliberalism, Caleb Wellum offers a provocative account of how the 1970s energy crisis helped to recreate postwar America. Rather than think of the crisis as the obvious outcome of the decade's "oil shocks," Wellum unpacks the cultural construction of a crisis of energy across different sectors of society, from presidents, policy experts, and environmentalists to filmmakers, economists, and oil futures traders. He shows how the dominant meanings ascribed to the 1970s energy crisis helped to...

How the 1970s energy crisis facilitated a neoliberal shift in US political culture.

In Energizing Neoliberalism, Caleb Wellum offers a provocative account of how the 1970s energy crisis helped to recreate postwar America. Rather than think of the crisis as the obvious outcome of the decade's "oil shocks," Wellum unpacks the cultural construction of a crisis of energy across different sectors of society, from presidents, policy experts, and environmentalists to filmmakers, economists, and oil futures traders. He shows how the dominant meanings ascribed to the 1970s energy crisis helped to energize neoliberal visions of renewed abundance and power through free market values and approaches to energy.

Deeply researched in federal archives, expert discourse, and popular culture, Energizing Neoliberalism demonstrates the central role that energy crisis narratives played in America's neoliberal turn. Wellum traces the roots of the crisis to the consumption practices and cultural narratives spawned by the petrocultural politics of Cold War capitalism. In a series of illuminating case studies—including 1970s energy conservation debates, popular car films, and the creation of oil futures trading—Wellum chronicles the consolidation of a neoliberal capitalist order in the United States through an energy politics marked by anxious futurity, petro-populist sentiment, and financialized energy markets. He shows how experiences of energy shortages and fears of future energy crises unsettled American national identity and power yet also informed Reagan-era confidence in free markets and US global leadership.

In taking a cultural approach to the 1970s energy crisis, Wellum offers a challenging meditation on the status of "crisis" in modern history, contemporary life, and critical thought and how we rely on crises to make sense of the world.

Reviews

Reviews

Caleb Wellum offers a fascinating account of the 1970s' energy crisis and how a wildly diverse set of actors—environmentalists, ecological economists, neoliberal ideologues, and more—all came to the same conclusion: leave energy to the market. Energizing Neoliberalism offers indispensable scholarship on a critical decade in energy and political history.

Erudite, entertaining, and surprising, Energizing Neoliberalism offers a razor-sharp history of the oil crisis and the role it played in accelerating a neoliberal politics that swapped out the old orthodoxies of resource scarcity and Keynesian planning for an untenable belief in unfettered oil futures, limitless resources, and the financialization of life.

Caleb Wellum's Energizing Neoliberalism is an important historical warning that energy crisis narratives carry political risk. Through the 1970s' discourse of oil crisis, neoliberals co-opted environmental anxieties. This book is indispensable for understanding the centrality of fossil fuel popular culture to the shift toward neoliberalism and the New Right.

Anyone interested in the current energy transition will want to read this compelling account of the last major crisis in our relation to fossil fuels. Wellum shows us how to think about a crisis of production and, equally, about the production of a crisis, illuminating the place of energy in our culture and politics.

Energizing Neoliberalism shows how tightly American culture and politics were intertwined with fossil fuel abundance and how anxieties about the nation's energy future helped generate market-oriented politics and culture. Wellum challenges readers to wrestle with how US 'petroculture' might be reimagined in the future.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
264
ISBN
9781421447186
Illustration Description
6 halftones, 7 line drawings
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction. Energy in Crisis
Chapter 1. "Is America Running Out of Gas?": Assembling the Energy Crisis
Chapter 2. "A Time to Choose": Interpreting the Energy Crisis
Chapter 3. "A Vibrant

Acknowledgments
Introduction. Energy in Crisis
Chapter 1. "Is America Running Out of Gas?": Assembling the Energy Crisis
Chapter 2. "A Time to Choose": Interpreting the Energy Crisis
Chapter 3. "A Vibrant National Preoccupation": The Energy Conservation Ethic and Market Forces
Chapter 4. "Put Your Foot on the Pedal": Contesting Conservation in Seventies Car Cinema
Chapter 5. "Markets Born of Shocks": NYMEX Oil Futures, Financialization, and Neoliberal Narratives
Epilogue. Enduring Crisis
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Caleb Wellum
Featured Contributor

Caleb Wellum

Caleb Wellum (HAMILTON, ON) is an assistant professor of US history at the University of Toronto, Mississauga.