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Overview

Dr Simon Pirani

Honorary Professor in MLAC/Centre for Culture and Ecology


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Honorary Professor in MLAC/Centre for Culture and Ecology in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures  

Biography

Before entering academia, I worked as a journalist, writing mainly about UK labour and industry – including stints as editor of the North East Area mineworkers’ union journal (1988-90) and the national mineworkers’ union journal (1990-95) – and then about the Russian and Ukrainian economies and politics. I was awarded a BA (Russian Studies) (University of London 1997). My PhD thesis, on workers and the Soviet state in Moscow in the early 1920s (University of Essex 2006), was the basis for my book The Russian Revolution in Retreat (Routledge 2009).

From 2007 to 2021 I was Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, where I wrote numerous papers, and edited two books, on natural gas markets in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and the central Asian countries. With colleagues I produced research on the Russia-Ukraine gas disputes and issues surrounding Russian gas exports to Europe. In recent years, my research has shifted to focus on the technological, social and economic systems through which fossil fuels are consumed; these were the subject of my book Burning Up: a global history of fossil fuel consumption (Pluto, 2018). 

Research

My research is focused on the technological systems by and through which fossil fuels are consumed, the social and economic systems in which these are embedded, and the relationships between them. I am concerned with how these systems are changing, and could change, in the course of the transition away from fossil fuels.

One issue is the commodification of fossil fuels, together with labour power, that went with the expansion of global capital in the 19th and 20th centuries. These commodified relations have been resisted, whether by state or municipal supply of fuels and electricity as a service, not a commodity, by social movements against privatisation, and in other ways. The potential for decommodification as a means to decarbonisation is a present concern.

Another set of issues concerns the way that social and economic factors determine how technologies are developed and used; and the way that technological change in the transition away from fossil fuels is related to social, economic and political change. 

I am interested in how research of technology, society and the labour process can inform what society does to implement the transition away from fossil fuels. For example, how it will challenge both dominant narratives about climate change, that emphasise the role of some technologies (e.g. carbon capture or hydrogen manufacture) and downplay others (e.g. insulation of buildings or electricity generation from decentralised renewables), and also the social and political forces that sustain those narratives.

I continue to follow social and historical research of the former Soviet countries, Russia and Ukraine in particular.

Publications

Authored book

  • Pirani, Simon (2018). Burning Up: a global history of fossil fuel consumption. Pluto Press.
  • Pirani, Simon (2010). Change in Putin's Russia: Power, Money and People. Pluto Press.
  • Pirani, Simon (2008). The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-24: Soviet workers and the new communist elite. Routledge.

Chapter in book

  • Pirani, Simon (2018). The Politics of Working Class Dissent in Early Soviet Russia, 1920-22. In Russia's Home Front in War and Revolution, 1914-22. Book 3: National Disintegration. Adcock, Sarah, Novikova, Liudmila & Retish, Aaron Slavica. 3: 351-372.
  • Pirani, Simon (2014). Sources of Demand in the Russian Domestic Gas Market. In The Russian Gas Matrix: how markets are driving change. Henderson, James & Pirani, Simon Oxford University Press.

Journal Article

Report

  • Pirani, Simon (2021). Ukraine's energy policy and prospects for the gas sector. Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
  • Tong, David & Pirani, Simon (2021). Unused Tools: how Central Banks are fuelling the climate crisis. Oil Change International.
  • Pirani, Simon & Sharples, Jack (2021). Ukraine-EU Gas Market Integration: short-term progress, long-term challenges. Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
  • Pirani, Simon (2020). The Silvertown Tunnel is in a hole, so Stop Digging. Transport Action Network.
  • Pirani, Simon (2019). Central Asian gas: prospects for the 2020s. Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
  • Pirani, Simon (2018). Let's Not Exaggerate: Southern Gas Corridor Prospects to 2030.

Working Paper

  • Pirani, Simon (2021). How energy was commodified and how it could be decommodified.
  • Pirani, Simon (2011). Elusive Potential: Natural Gas Consumption in the CIS and the Quest for Efficiency.
  • Pirani, Simon, Stern, Jonathan & Yafimava, Katja (2009). The Russo-Ukrainian gas dispute of 2009: a comprehensive assessment.