Cornell University

Natalie Koch | How to green a petrostate: Resource nationalism and post-oil futures in the Arabian Peninsula

Friday, February 25, 2022 at 3:00pm to 4:15pm

More dates through March 4, 2022

Resource nationalism has taken many shapes in the Arabian Peninsula since the discovery of large oil and gas reserves in the early- and mid-20th century. As the region assumed its place in hegemonic global imaginaries as the world’s epicenter of hydrocarbon extraction, governments and ordinary citizens alike celebrated the role of oil and gas in their national independence movements and rapid development trajectories upon achieving statehood. Hydrocarbons are still locally perceived as a force for good and essential to securing the past, present, and future development of the nation. Yet these discourses do not exist in a vacuum: today they increasingly interact with global sustainability discourses and a now-dominant idea that “to be green is to be modern.”

New “post-oil” nationalist storylines have become prominent in the Arabian Peninsula the past 10 years, where diverse government-backed greening projects have been promoted with a large dose of spectacle – leading them to be frequently dismissed in the West as mere PR and “greenwashing.” Moving past this simplistic critique, I instead show how recent sustainability initiatives are themselves targeted at challenging prevailing geopolitical identity narratives in the West, which stigmatize them as petrostates and climate pariahs. But post-oil future narratives in the Arabian Peninsula are not just a reaction to these Western critiques: they are part of a well-established Western tradition of using spectacle in promoting environmental sustainability and promoting a positive narrative about the “modern” national self.

Based on ethnographic research on major sustainability events and sites in the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia from 2014-2022, I demonstrate how Gulf governments, national oil and gas companies, and sovereign wealth funds have been adapting sustainability discourses and working to define “post-oil” futures – and what this means for the increasing incorporation of sustainability in resource nationalisms around the world.

About the speaker:

Natalie Koch is a political geographer focusing on authoritarianism, geopolitics, nationalism and identity politics, and resource governance. Koch also work on sports geography, and is broadly interested in understanding how the territorial state system is maintained, and how individuals become subjects in different political systems and spaces. She has conducted extensive research on Central Asia in the past, but her work is currently focused on the Arabian Peninsula. Empirically, her research examines alternative sites of geopolitical analysis such as science and higher education, sport, spectacle, nationalist rituals and landscapes, environmental policy and sustainability initiatives, and urban development

This event is organized by Cornell’s Nationalism Working Group with support from the Qualitative & Interpretive Research Institute

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Leila Wilmers. Sociology Department


Natalie Koch

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Syracuse University

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