"Our oil would burn bright til morning:" Geopolitics, Resource Securitization, and Anglo-American Competition for Whale Oil, 1783-1818

Stefan Andreasson, Timothy Ruback

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Energy security has become a central focus in social scientific studies of energy resources, and most research on the securitization of energy emphasizes the pivotal role of fossil fuels in shaping geopolitics in the 20th century. We extend the temporal scope of energy security by conducting a case study of the early 19th century whale oil industry to demonstrate the ways in which a focus on the human security consequences of energy competition can affect Anglo-American commercial balance of power relations. This case study also demonstrates the significance of the physicality of energy sources in understanding their effect on international affairs. Crucially, whereas the stationary nature, or locational fixity, of natural resources constitutes a defining characteristic of their treatment in the resource curse, resource nationalism and resource conflict literatures, the geographically unbounded nature of whale oil introduces a qualitatively different dynamic. The insights provided by the whale oil industry are instructive not only for understanding the dynamics of securitization of energy but also for considering how the embryonic energy transition towards renewables will reshape geopolitics in the 21st century.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102035
Number of pages10
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Volume76
Early online date08 Apr 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 08 Apr 2021

Keywords

  • United States
  • Great Britain
  • whale oil
  • International Relations
  • Energy
  • Energy Transitions
  • Diplomacy
  • Trade and Economy
  • Security

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