Research Output
Extractive Poetics: Marine Energies in Scottish Literature
  Following the recent call to ‘put the ocean’s agitation and historicity back onto our mental maps and into the study of literature’ (Yaeger 2010), this article addresses the histories and cultures of marine energy extraction in modern Scottish literature. The burgeoning discipline of the Energy Humanities has recently turned its attentions towards Scottish literature as a valuable area of study when contemplating the relationships between energy and cultural production. Most recently, scholars have focused their analysis on the histories of North Sea oil and gas production and have worked to juxtapose the long histories of land clearance in the Highlands and islands alongside contemporary narratives of exile and exploitation experienced by Scotland’s coastal oil communities. The forms of spatial injustice incurred through the recent histories of what Derek Gladwin terms ‘Oil Clearance’ (Gladwin 2017) or Graeme Macdonald identifies as ‘petro-marginalisation’ (Macdonald 2015), is often solely registered through terrestrial environments. This article urges the adoption of an oceanic perspective, one which registers how the extractive politics of modern petroculture in Scotland not only presents major challenges for terrestrial environments and communities, but holds specific ramifications for the ways in which we currently imagine and interact with oceanic space. Indeed, as Macdonald has noted, the North Sea is in many ways ‘wholly regarded as a productive environment of marine capitalism synonymous with oil’ (2015). What does it mean to read the ocean through oil? By adopting an oceanic perspective, this article considers the ways in which the exploitative dynamics of offshore petroculture in the 1970s coincides with an incredibly damaging and problematic cultural construction of the ocean. But as Scotland moves towards a new era of low-carbon energy production, how might this construction of the ocean change? The closing half of this article considers the ways in which the extractivist histories and spatial injustices of petroculture are resisted through contemporary poetic engagements with new marine-based energy technologies, namely, wave and tidal power. In examining a range of work from artists and poets such as Alec Finlay, Laura Watts, Lila Matsumoto and Hannah Imlach, this article further argues that the recent turn towards marine renewables not only signals a new future for a low-carbon Scotland, but that the advent of renewable technologies provides contemporary poets with new materials through which to imagine alternative models of community, power, and relation in an era of environmental change.

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    18 January 2019

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  • Funders:

    The University of Edinburgh


Campbell, A. (2019). Extractive Poetics: Marine Energies in Scottish Literature. Humanities, 8(1),



Blue Humanities; Ecopoetics; Marine Renewables; North Sea Oil; Orkney; Petroculture

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