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Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  303 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
Oil is a curse, it is often said, that condemns the countries producing it to an existence defined by war, corruption and enormous inequality. Carbon Democracy tells a more complex story, arguing that no nation escapes the political consequences of our collective dependence on oil. It shapes the body politic both in regions such as the Middle East, which rely upon revenues ...more
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published November 7th 2011 by Verso (first published January 1st 2011)
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Uuu Ooo Bbb
Jan 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: middle-east
The book has some valuable and interesting observations about the history of fossil fuel economy and the middle east. It has some important flaws as well.
It gives carbon energy too much importance in the history, and achieves that by omitting what doesn't fit it's narrative from the discussion. The examples here would be importance of colonialism, slave trade and plantation economy as the economic base of early capitalist economy, the contemporary existence of millions of people in slums across
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Son 100 yıldaki büyük siyasi olayların ve hareketlerin neredeyse tamamının kömür/petrol/enerji ile doğrudan ilişkisini detaylı şekilde anlatıyor. Bilhassa İran,Irak, Suudi Arabistanın tamamen petrol çevresinde dönen/döndürülen siyaseti, bugünkü çatışmalar ve yakınlaşmaları anlamak için çok iyi bir temel sağlıyor.
Aug 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is well worth reading, though I still question the amount of emphasis placed on energy as *the* basis of democracy/capitalism. Mitchell nevertheless makes a strong argument for the influence of oil companies and associated representational-disciplinary entities on destruction of labor and creation of a "limitless resource" economic representation while at the same time limiting production of oil so as to retain profits. Mitchell is a Foucauldian complement to David Harvey's Marxism, in ...more
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: energy
The Middle East unveils the true nature of capitalism, but falls short of democracy

[Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and saf
Dec 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If only I could have read this book 40 years ago! This is certainly one of the best books I've read on history, economics, ecology or politics.

Forty years ago when I was a student of the philosophy of economics, I was stymied. I could not find any solid foundation for economics, and the Sioux medicine man Lame Deer seemed to have it right in summarizing the "green frog-skin world" of the American dollar as an illusion. But this illusion clearly had immense power over the whole world, and I thoug
Dec 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Mitchell seeks to show how the actual physical infrastructure of oil - the coal mines in the 19th and early 20th centuries; oil pumps, pipes and ships, influenced the development of modern democracy and capitalism. Although a lot of his argument focuses on oil in the Middle East, I think his argument is strongest in its first portion, where he shows how the methods of coal mining in England - with independent teams of miners working in pairs hauling coal to a rail infrastructure with just a few ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
really compelling, especially the early chapters that examine how oil became more politically useful than coal. the manufacturing of the energy crisis was also meticulously examined. the conclusion and afterword were strangely soft and left me wanting more. nonetheless, this book will become a standard for geographers and anyone interested in oil, energy, and the infrastructure of capitalist politics.
Sep 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: energy
Presents a very well-made argument for considering the emergence of hydrocarbon fuel sources and the fight for control of those resources as central to the rise of the urbanization, the modern welfare state, the political violence of the 20th century, and the contemporary globalized market economy.
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is nearly impossible to understand contemporary world-political systems without investigating into the relationship between democracies, energy capitalism, and governmentality's powers – as Mitchell does here so well. Please, read this.
Ebrahim Dehqan
جایزهئی از سرزمین پریان

دموکراسی کربنی چندان کتاب و نگارش خوش رنگ و لعابی نیست، اما بررسی تاریخی و بیتعارف کربن و تحلیلی است از سیاست های پشت پردهی منجر به تحولات بسیار مهم سیاسی جهان و تغییرات حاد اقلیمی که بدون شک سزاوار به اشتراک گذاشته شدن است.

ما چقدر از انرژی می دانیم!؟

چقدر به آن اهمیت می دهیم!؟

ما در مورد الکتریسیته، مدارهای الکترونیکی و موتورهای درون سوز در سیستم آموزشیمان آموخته ایم. همچنین در مورد امتیازاتی که قاجارها برای اکتشاف به خارجی های دادند. اما من کمتر به یاد می آورم حتی دقیقه ای
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
“When most energy was derived from widely dispersed renewable sources, a significant part of the population was involved in the work of generating and transporting energy, in small amounts. With the large-scale use of fossil fuels, and especially following the advent of electricity in the 1880s, a large majority of people in industrialized countries became consumers of energy generated by others, and most work involved the handling or supervision of processes that were driven by energy from else ...more
Michael Rynn
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thorough consideration of oil as the missing link to modern economy.

A very well told history of today's civilization predicaments, tied in to the story of coal, then oil.
Has immediate relevance to what is happening now, and the general behaviour of human organizations that compete for scarce natural resources. During most of twentieth century, the oil resource wasn't scarce, and had low costs of production, so oil corporations, private or state, vied, and collaborated with each other to produc
Ethan Everhart
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book took me a month, at least. Part of that was just how busy I am, but certainly also because of the book’s density. There is a lot of data, and Timothy Mitchell provides a lot of information, context, history, and statistics for his argument. At times it feels like sticking your head into a waterfall of information and trying to take it all in (or sometimes even trying to retain anything). But despite all of that, reading it was definitely a profound experience, and it’s changed how I th ...more
Most of this book is a general history of US / Western involvement in the Middle East. At some point in each chapter the author suggests that it's all about oil but many of the links were not clear or convincing to me.
Still, I gained some very valuable insights in the history of geopolitics, the dynamics and trends of the oil and energy industries. This could have been a 5-star book for me if it had focused more on the actual topic.
Ferhat Culfaz
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice overview of coal and then oil and mining stocks interaction with governments around the world. Quite a bleak book but good all round coverage. The conclusion and afterward has a great analysis on peak oil, and global warming, as well as technical aspects for extracting unconventional forms of oil.
Mohammad Jalali
Mitchell nicely presents how western countries, or more precisely western companies, found out the importance of oil and tried to control it in the Middle East with different strategies and financial assistances. The way he starts with the history of coal power in the rise of democracy and then describes the politics of oil, and how military activities are directly related to control oil politics in the region was quite interesting to me. I think he properly depicts the place the Middle East in ...more
Jeffrey Cavanaugh
Jul 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Rather than focusing on the 'of-revenue-and-rule' model of the political-economy of the oil/resource curse, the author instead examines how the physical use and control of carbon energy both impedes and has facilitated democracy both in the West and the Middle East.

The general conclusion is that what matters most for the carbon/democracy relationship is whether workers and pro-democratic forces can exert enough power at the critical system-supply and distribution nodes to credibly threaten it a
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
absolutely loved it. one of the most influential books I've read (mostly because it connected my biggest interests in life: energy/engineering, history, and political economy of the middle east. pretty dope highly recommend! and at some point he touches on his idea of 'the economy' being an invention which I find intriguing.
Ich würde so 3,5-4 Sterne geben. Ich fand es ziemlich schwer zu lesen und zu verstehen. Inhaltlich aber hochinteressant, wie die Demokratie erst durch Kohle und Öl groß wurde und wie sich immer stärkere Monopole bilden konnten.
Nov 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
The author was very knowledgable about emergence of oil and coal and how it has shaped labor regulations and modern politics in various regions. I have been using this book to help for a class and it was a great read.
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Get ready to be challenged!

Instead of thinking of democracy as a process that can basically be carbon copied from the Global North to the developing world, it might be interesting to think of the genesis of democracy from the hydrocarbons.

Sara Drotzer
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
I honestly hated this book. Mitchell had some great points, but they were so bogged down by a disjointed history that I was lost trying to follow.
Dec 29, 2015 marked it as to-read
Shelves: geopolitics
Apr 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
A nice undoing of the heroes and villains of the Middle East, and what the oil exploration in fact was in its dynamics of production, yet difficult in its agentic materialism.
rated it liked it
Jan 27, 2016
Theros Wong
rated it it was amazing
Nov 22, 2016
Sara Salem
rated it really liked it
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Lahoucine Skaih
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Aug 10, 2013
Andrew Shrout
rated it it was amazing
May 28, 2014
Janki Desai
rated it it was amazing
Oct 15, 2014
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Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures

Columbia University

612 Kent Hall, Mail Code 3928
1140 Amsterdam Ave.

New York, NY 10027

Tel: 212-854 5252

Timothy Mitchell is a political theorist who studies the political economy of the Middle East, the political role of economics and other forms of expert knowledge, the politics of large-scale technical sy
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“In introducing technical innovations, or using energy in novel ways, or developing alternative sources of power, we are not subjecting ‘society’ to some new external influence, or conversely using social forces to alter an external reality called ‘nature’. We are reorganising socio-technical worlds, in which what we call social, natural and technical processes are present at every point.

These entanglements, however, are not recognised in our theories of collective life, which continue to divide the world according to the conventional divisions between fields of specialist knowledge. There is a natural world studied by the various branches of natural science, and a social world analysed by the social sciences. Debates about human-induced climate change, the depletion of non-renewable resources, or any other question, create political uncertainty not so much because they reach the limits of technical and scientific knowledge, but because of the way they breach this conventional distinction between society and nature.”
“As the producer states gradually forced the major oil companies to share with them more of the profits from oil, increasing quantities of sterling and dollars flowed to the Middle East. To maintain the balance of payments and the viability of the international financial system, Britain and the United States needed a mechanism for these currency flows to be returned. [...]

The purchase of most goods, whether consumable materials like food and clothing or more durable items such as cars or industrial machinery, sooner or later reaches a limit where, in practical terms, no more of the commodity can be used and further acquisition is impossible to justify. Given the enormous size of oil revenues, and the relatively small populations and widespread poverty of many of the countries beginning to accumulate them, ordinary goods could not be purchased at a rate that would go far to balance the flow of dollars (and many could be bought from third countries, like Germany and Japan – purchases that would not improve the dollar problem). Weapons, on the other hand, could be purchased to be stored up rather than used, and came with their own forms of justification. Under the appropriate doctrines of security, ever-larger acquisitions could be rationalised on the grounds that they would make the need to use them less likely. Certain weapons, such as US fighter aircraft, were becoming so technically complex by the 1960s that a single item might cost over $10 million, offering a particularly compact vehicle for recycling dollars. Arms, therefore, could be purchased in quantities unlimited by any practical need or capacity to consume. As petrodollars flowed increasingly to the Middle East, the sale of expensive weaponry provided a unique apparatus for recycling those dollars – one that could expand without any normal commercial constraint.”
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