Theses Doctoral

We Are Like Oil: An Ecology of the Venezuelan Culture Boom, 1973-1983

Acosta, Santiago

This dissertation examines the explosion of the cultural field in Venezuela during the 1970s oil boom through the lens of nature-society relations. I argue that cultural production was an agent of state-led ecological transformation and, at the same time, a space where artists and intellectuals negotiated spaces of autonomy that nonetheless were entangled with oil-funded projects of environment-making. By analyzing the cultural politics, visual arts, institutions, and infrastructure projects that blossomed during this era, I seek to uncover the role of cultural and aesthetic forms in processes of rapid urbanization and large-scale resource extraction. In doing so, I situate my work within recent efforts in the environmental humanities aimed at picking apart the cultural narratives that sustain or challenge the power of extractive regimes, particularly in the global South.

My chapters analyze the cultural policies that oil-money made possible, the visual art that intersected with energy infrastructure projects, and the photography and film that dealt with the shocks of accelerated development and oil-led globalization. Supported by archival research and close examinations of understudied examples, I focus on the debates and cultural politics that defined the transition from the Instituto National de Cultura y Bellas Artes (Inciba) to the more powerful Centro Nacional de la Cultura (Conac); the role of the kinetic artworks of Carlos Cruz-Diez and Alejandro Otero in urbanization projects and the construction of the Guri hydroelectric dam in South-Eastern Venezuela; the photographic making of Caracas during the 1970s construction boom in the books of Soledad Mendoza and Ramón Paolini; and, finally, the crisis and breakdown of the dream of unlimited wealth in two film pieces by Carlos Oteyza and Antonio Llerandi.

While studies about oil and cultural production usually trace the relations between fossil fuels and the formation of modernity in the global North, I contend that a vision from the nature-exporting societies of the global South is fundamental to understand the cultural logics of nature extraction at a planetary scale. Similarly, I propose that the relationship between culture and petroleum will not be clarified by tracking its representations in literary or artistic works, but rather by looking at how often the realm of culture is already intertwined with a global ecology of nature, capital, and power. Finally, in arguing this, I seek to highlight the cultural work of states in the extractive peripheries as an essential object of analysis for the environmental humanities, as well as for a broader rethinking of the uneven ecology of capitalism and the geopolitics of socioecological change.

Geographic Areas


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2025-03-13.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Montaldo, Graciela Raquel
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 30, 2020