The interdisciplinary project Translatability of Oil (TOIL) examines how petroleum oil has been represented and interpreted through fiction, textbooks, media, and religious practice over the last century. With particular emphasis on developments in Norway after 1970, the project will discuss how the aesthetics of oil may have contributed to preventing the transition to alternative forms of energy. The abbreviation TOIL is a hint that energy conversion is often demanding work, not only physically and technologically, but also culturally and emotionally.
TOIL's theoretical starting point is that a shift from fossil to green energy requires a combination of different translation skills that makes it possible to communicate across ideological, professional, linguistic, and generational dividing lines. With a comparative approach to energy cultures, where Norwegian oil culture is the nodal point of investigation, TOIL will contribute to nuance the hitherto North America dominated research literature in the petroculture field.
By combining methods from literary studies, didactic research, film studies, and theology, TOIL will map and compare different representations of oil. More specifically, the project will
- shed light on the extent to which dominant narratives about North American oil culture and concepts from international petroculture research can be translated into a Norwegian context,
- analyze and compare the critical reception of oil stories in Norway before and after the oil discovery at Ekofisk in 1969, and
- contribute to theory development within the energy humanities by exploring what kind of explanatory power the term "translatability" has when it comes to understanding the role of oil in a world threatened by climate crisis.
The interdisciplinary project Translatability of Oil (TOIL) investigates how oil has been and still is represented in literature, school, screen cultures, and religious praxis, and how the aesthetics of oil might be a factor holding back progress on a transition to alternative energy. TOIL posits that energy transition requires a combination of different translational skills enabling communication between disciplines, languages, cultures, and generations. The project aims at understanding the dynamics of (in)translatability involved in the ambivalent and sometimes painful processes of leaving oil. The abbreviation TOIL hints at the combination of cultural work, conceptual work and emotional work involved in this enterprise. The nodal point of investigation will be Norwegian petroculture, a particularly apt case because although still relatively under-studied in international research much of it is exceptionally well-documented. By approaching petroculture diachronically and synchronically with methods derived from semiotics and translation theory, combined with digital humanities approaches, TOIL aims at advancing the hermeneutics of the energy humanities. The project is organized as four interrelated work packages: 1) Petrofiction in Translation; 2) The Didactics of Oil; 3) Screen Petrocultures; 4) Petroleum as Religious Substance. TOIL argues that a critical theory of energy requires better understanding of communication as situated practice. The project is conceptually held together by its focus on the translatability of oil in its different modes, including the diversity of linguistic, visual and tactile representations.