Contextualizing Petro-Sexual Politics


Turcotte, H. M. 2011. “Contextualizing Petro-Sexual Politics.” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 36 (3): 200–220. doi:10.1177/0304375411418597.

Author: H. M. Turcotte


Petro-violence is a feminist issue. Through the examination of U.S. mainstream narratives of gender violence and petroleum violence within Nigeria, the author reveals how gender and sexuality are central to representations of terrorism and ethnic-gang conflict within petroleum politics. Through a framework of petro-sexual politics, which links histories of gender and petroleum violence together, the author considers how petro-violence materializes in multiple forms that have always been gendered and systemically violent. By demonstrating that gender violence is not merely an effect of petro-violence, the author argues it is the necessary condition for such violence to even take place. Understanding petro-politics means recognizing that gender violence is part of a larger political economy of violence that creates the conditions fostering and facilitating petro-politics in the first place.

Keywords: gender violence, petroleum politics, social imaginaries, transnational feminisms, contextualizing petro-sexual politcs



“Within international studies, ethnic conflict is constructed as ‘internal,’ an unfortunate result of long-standing ethnic and racial differences that can flare into fear, hatred, and war. Only very rarely is such violence recognized as a condition of systematic inequality and colonial state structures, a consequence of capitalism’s restructuring.” (202)

“Polgreen represents gender violence as endemic to the community rather [than] a condition or and for the petroleum industry… this view denies the material reality of the ways in which petro-communities, and women, have struggled for decades against violence such as environmental degradation, exploitation by multinational corporations, repression by the state, and depredations by domestic and international security forces deployed to protect oil interests… women are constantly negotiating through multiple forms of petro-violence, including intense forms of gender and sexual violence enacted by security forces of the state and those connected with multinational oil companies.” (203)

“Sexual and gender violence is a means of securing productive and reproductive resources that include bodies, labor, and land as well as oil. For Nigeria, this means an overlapping relationship between petroleum and sexual politics during its colonial period… The frameworks of colonial state practices of resource extraction and violence did not dissipate with independence; rather, they are further solidified within postcolonial state relationships of international security.” (206)

“The Biafran War is thus a key historical moment that, within discourses of international security, sediments the legitimacies and trajectories of petro-violence, reaffirming the state and MNCs as owners of the petroleum and, hence, as the sole legal and legitimate actors where oil is concerned and petro-communities as illegitimate bodies of threat… this war and its consequences also serves as the institutional link between the securitization of petroleum and sexual-gender violence.” (207)

“The Biafran War is an important historical marker in the instantiation of sexual violence as a necessary and naturalized security practice against people and communities who contest imperial oil practices. Sexual violence is more than just a “tool” of war, it is the condition on which global oil politics are made possible.” (207)

“In other words, today, as in the past, the security forces of the state and interstate system protect the oil industry through the regulation of petro-communities. Regulation relies on a constant fear of injury and danger, which are substantiated as “real” through material acts of ethnoracial, gender, sexual, environmental, economic, and political violence.” (207)

Topics: Economies, Ethnicity, Extractive Industries, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups, Political Economies, Sexual Violence, Sexuality, Terrorism, Violence Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Nigeria

Year: 2011

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