Petro-education: Infinite Oil and Batches of Petroleum Engineers

Authors: Danya Al-Saleh*, University of Wisconsin
Topics: Energy, Middle East, Economic Geography
Keywords: feminist geography, universities, institutional ethnography, oil and gas, engineering, Qatar, Texas
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 58
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

US universities established branch campuses across the Arabian Peninsula over the past two decades with the official purpose of transitioning countries such as Qatar away from fossil fuel dependency. Yet, many of these universities have close ties to the oil industry through research and finance. Drawing on 20 months of ethnographic research, I investigate the contradictory role of Texas A&M—a US land-grant university well-known for its relationship with the oil and gas industry—in preparing Qatar for a future without abundant fossil fuels. In this paper, I focus on how Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) produces petroleum engineers in the context of Qatar’s post-oil development agenda. Over the past decade, increasing numbers of students rejected working for an industry that is officially framed by the Qatari development agenda as temporary. To counter this, TAMUQ deploys mechanisms that are used at the main campus in Texas in order to attract students to petroleum engineering. Presenting oil as a commodity characterized by recurring ups and downs, TAMUQ frames the future of fossil fuels as cyclical, yet infinite, requiring adventurous engineers to brave the commodity’s downturns and frontiers. I argue that petro-education—the process through which the ideological commitment to ways of life that fossil fuels made possible is reproduced in US universities—can co-exist with and even reinforce development agendas in the Gulf that envision post-oil transition. In doing so, I offer a grounded feminist intervention in energy geographies to examine the transnational connections between a US land-grant university and the fossil fuel industry.

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