ESEH 2021 - Session on "‘One refinery, different worlds’. Ecological impacts and concerns during Europe's energy transition to oil"

Renaud Becot's picture

Dear all,

Nicolas Chachereau and I are looking for presentations for a panel we will propose for the ESEH conference planned to take place in Bristol and/or online, 5th-9th July 2021. You will find a short proposal for the panel below. We would be interested in contributions focusing on any part of Western Europe and especially on Germany, the Netherlands or Northern Europe.

Proposals (around 200 words) must be sent before 25th October 2020 to Renaud Bécot ( and Nicolas Chachereau ( As the number of participants in a session is restricted, we invite you to contact us as soon as possible.

Best regards,

Renaud Bécot



ESEH Conference, University of Bristol, UK, 5th-9th July 2021:
“Same planet, different worlds: environmental histories imagining anew.”

Call for Presentations - Session proposal

One refinery, different worlds. Ecological impacts and concerns during Europe's energy transition to oil

Session organized by Renaud Bécot (Sciences Po Grenoble France, UMR Pacte 5194) and Nicolas Chachereau (Swiss National Science Foundation / LARHRA, Lyon)

Current environmental and climate emergencies have made energy a major part of public debate and of imagined new worlds, as well as a most dynamic area of scholarly inquiry. Unsurprisingly, given their long-standing interest for energy, environmental historians have participated in this research, as evidenced by various recent publications (e.g. Environmental History (July 2019), Business History Review (Spring 2019), Mathis and Massard-Guilbaud 2019, Jarrige and Vrignon 2020). Yet a lot of this history remains to be written, notably concerning petroleum, today the globally most important fossil fuel.

When oil consumption surged in Western Europe after 1945, the new infrastructures and practices reconfigured land use, impacted ecosystems and public health, and gave rise to new discourses, both celebratory and critical. There are few studies about these questions, and we can only draw limited lessons from existing environmental history research, even when it does not focus on the extraction of crude oil. For instance, the proximity of large oil fields, the continuous expansion of the city, the ecosystem of the bayou and the racialized environmental inequalities differentiate Houston (Melosi and Pratt 2007) from European refineries. Furthermore, while science studies have long been interested in the production of various types of health knowledge in refinery areas (Allen 2003, Ottinger 2013), very little research has been done to study health and ecological issues of refining in the longue durée. Yet, in the last few years, several studies suggested that a reflection framed in the terms of “slow violence” (Nixon 2011) could make it possible to question the issues of temporality regarding health issues in petrochemical landscapes (Davies, 2018, 2019; Davies, Mah, 2020).

The goal of this panel is thus to examine the environmental history of oil refineries or petrochemical complexes in Western Europe. By exploring the different ‘worlds’ of chosen installations, material and imaginary, ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’, social, political, epistemic and economic, we wish to ask differentiated questions: How were refineries embedded in existing eco- and envirotechnical systems and how did they affect them? How did they shape the built environment? How did the various groups (unequally) affected by a refinery, make sense, deal with and react to its environmental and health consequences over time? By exploring such questions through an interdisciplinary dialogue, we seek to build a “usable past”, highlighting the contingency of current energy regimes.

Selected bibliography

  • "Forum: The Environmental History of Energy Transitions", Environmental History, 24/3, 2019, p. 463-533.
  • Bergquist Ann-Kristin, "Renewing Business History in the Era of the Anthropocene", special issue "Business and the Environment Revisited", Business History Review, 93/1, Spring 2019, p. 3-24.
  • Allen Barbara, Uneasy Alchemy. Citizens and Experts in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor Disputes, Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2003.
  • Davies Thom, Mah Alice (eds), Toxic truths. Environmental justice and citizen science in a post-truth age, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2020.
  • Davies Thom, "Slow violence and toxic geographies: ‘Out of sight’ to whom?", Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, April 2019.
  • Davies Thom, "Toxic Space and Time: Slow Violence, Necropolitics, and Petrochemical Pollution", Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108/6, p. 1537-1553.
  • Jarrige François,Vrignon, Alexis (dir.), Face à la puissance. Une histoire des énergies alternatives et renouvelables à l’âge industriel (XIXe-XXe siècles), Paris, La Découverte, 2020.
  • Massard-Guilbaud Geneviève, Mathis Charles-François, Sous le soleil. Systèmes et transitions énergétiques du Moyen Âge à nos jours, Paris, Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2019.
  • Melosi Martin, Pratt Joseph, Energy Metropolis: An Environmental History of Houston and the Gulf Coast., Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007.
  • Nixon Rob, Slow violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2011.
  • Ottinger Gwen, Refining Expertise. How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges, New-York, New-York University Press, 2013.