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10 March 2022 - 10 March 2022

5:00PM - 7:00PM

ER231, Elvet Riverside (and Zoom)

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CHESS Seminar Series 2021/22: Janet Stewart (Durham University)

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Janet Stewart

Title: Extractive Seeing: Earth Science, Fossil Fuel and the Training of Vision


My paper takes as its point of departure a series of European energy exhibitions produced over the last decade. I argue that it is possible to isolate a clear and distinct logic to the vertical distribution of space around these exhibitions have been constructed. This logic, I will show, derives at least in part from the extensive cultural influence that geology has exercised since the nineteenth century (see O’Connor 2007) and, in particular, from the cultural impact of a particular kind of geological vision. It is my contention that over the last two hundred years or so, the development of earth science, one of the major forms of scientific knowledge connected to fossil fuel extraction, has made a key contribution to the construction of both what might be termed ‘petrosubjectivity’ (Bloom 2015) and ‘extractive seeing’, petrosubjectivity’s attendant form of visuality. A number of scholars have recently helpfully elucidated the nature of the relationship between culture and oil, while a broad range of work in cognate fields including the history of science, visual culture and STS has explored productively links amongst the development of visual technologies, science and the construction of new forms of subjectivity. And still others have thought about the development of Enlightenment vision and a colonial perspective. The specific web of interconnections amongst geology, the extractive industries, visual technology and the training of vision, however, has yet to be fully explored, despite sustained critical interest in understanding geology’s broader cultural influence and a concomitant recent turn to geological modes of understanding and gestures such Gomez-Barrios’s account of ‘extractive vision’ or as Jennifer Wenzel’s reflections on the ‘extractive eye’. In this paper, I pursue these connections through tracing the development of what I call ‘extractive seeing’, by which I mean a dominant way of seeing that has its roots in geology and the extractive industries, but has long since extended its reach beyond this starting point, as indicated by the idea of a ‘geological turn’.


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Meeting ID: 970 3027 7413
Passcode: chess


All welcome – please contact the Centre Administrator at to confirm attendance