Program

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships , ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships

Project

Petro-education: Engineering Fossil Fuel Futurities between Texas and Qatar

Project

PhD, Geography, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Department

Division of Humanities

Petro-education: Engineering Fossil Fuel Futurities between Texas and Qatar

“Petro-education” examines the contradictory role of Texas A&M in transitioning Qatar away from fossil fuels. Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ), an engineering branch campus established in 2003, is a techno-political experiment to rehabilitate fossil fuel futurities not only in Qatar, but also in Texas. These futurities work to reconcile the accelerated extraction of fossil fuels with the recognition that the age of abundant oil and gas is ending. Through 18 months of institutional ethnography in Texas and Qatar, this project demonstrates how administrators, faculty, and students navigate TAMUQ’s commitment to fossil fuels in the context of competing visions and political struggles over energy transition. This study, sitting at the intersection of energy geographies and critical university studies, shows how the ideological commitment to ways of living that fossil fuels made possible is reproduced within a US university.

PhD, Geography, University of Wisconsin – Madison

"Petro-education: Fossil Fuel Futures between Qatar and Texas"

Petro-education investigates the contradictory role of Texas A&M in preparing Qatar for a future without abundant fossil fuels. Through twenty months of ethnographic and archival research conducted between February 2018-August 2020, I demonstrate how administrators, faculty, and students navigate Texas A&M University at Qatar’s (TAMUQ) ties to fossil fuels in the context of Qatar’s post-carbon development agenda. I argue that petro-education, the institutions in US universities that reproduce fossil-fueled capitalism, can co-exist with and even reinforce development agendas in the Gulf region that envision post-oil futures. This seeming contradiction produces the conditions that re-directs resources from more just and green futures. By mapping Texas A&M’s relationship to the oil and gas industry across various locations between Qatar and Texas, this dissertation shows how transnational struggles over energy transition are entangled in intimate fantasies and fears about demographics, engineering labor, and national security. In doing so, this dissertation offers a grounded feminist intervention in the fields of energy geographies, critical university studies, and Gulf studies. This project also engages debates about climate change and the role of US universities in normalizing forms of social and political life that require the extraction of fossil fuels. Through a focus on Texas A&M, I build a set of tools and framework for researching universities and fossil-fueled capitalism. Finally, this project contributes to studies of capitalism in the Gulf by reworking theories of the Gulf region as uniquely oil-dependent.
Chapter 1 identifies three key moments when TAMUQ’s identity as the legal extension of a Texas land-grant university was in flux: 1) the 2003 Iraq War; 2) the establishment of the Qatar National Research Fund in 2006; and 3) Securing American Science and Technology Act of 2019. I argue that at each of these moments, TAMUQ’s simultaneous commitments the state of Texas, Qatar’s development agenda, and the oil industry were put at odds with each other. In the process of navigating these tensions, administrators worked to re-engineer the idea of a land-grant university itself. Chapter 2 turns to the production of petroleum engineers at TAMUQ. Over the past decade, increasing numbers of students rejected working for an industry that is officially framed by the Qatari development agenda as temporary. I argue that 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. Chapter 3 turns from petroleum engineers to Qatari women studying at TAMUQ. I examine TAMUQ’s contradictory role in managing the “gender balance” of Qatari engineering labor and the experiences of students navigating these institutional mechanisms. I reflect on how a female future, rhetorically celebrated as the embodiment of Qatar’s post-carbon economy, is materially unimaginable at TAMUQ. Chapter 4 shows how building a knowledge economy in Qatar is shaped by geopolitical tensions over the relationship between engineering research and US national security. While TAMUQ students and faculty have research interests outside of oil and gas, there are significant barriers to working in these areas, which span from technology export laws and the securitization of research. Together, this dissertation shows how Texas A&M’s institutions of petro-education enable the university to continue producing labor and knowledge for the industry despite downturns, calculations of peak oil, post-oil development agendas, and the gains of movements for climate and environmental justice.