Matthew T. Huber
Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom, and the Forces of Capital, University of Minnesota Press,
Minneapolis, MN, 2013; 253 pp: 9780816677856, 25 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
The historian David Nye (1998) explains, 'as Americans incorporated new machines and processes into their lives, they became ensnared in power systems that were not easily changed ... Processes of capitalism and industrialization alone do not explain this rapid development or [the massive] national difference. Culture does.' Matthew T. Hubers Lifeblood builds critically on this idea, explaining that capital is central to a particular construction of a cultural politics of life--'the lived practices and meanings that naturalize capitalist forms of power and hegemony'--an 'entrepreneurial life' made possible by the socioecological relations that extract, refine, consume and enliven the 'dead ecologies' of fossil-fuel energy.
Huber's focus, importantly, is on 'life' and the particular construction of an 'American way of life' under oil-fired capitalism, as opposed to the fossil-fuel machine-dominated 'work' (for more on work, see Noble 1977, 1984). He explains that oil is 'a central energy resource shaping the forces of social reproduction ... the real subsumption of life under capital ... [wherein] life appears as capital, or what Foucault calls "the enterprise form" so central to neoliberal subjectivities.' With this focus, Huber adds a unique analysis to the growing literature on energy and capitalism, providing a critique and supplement to the work of, amongst others, Timothy Mitchell (2011) and Mazen Labban (2008).
In the theoretical introduction to the work, Chapter 1, Huber focuses on the 'fetishism of oil', which embeds it with an undialectical 'thingness', an alien character and attribution of causality outside of social relations. As Huber argues, oil needs to be understood as a specifically material aspect of the alienated and seemingly autonomous power of capital over living labour. The cultural politics of capital shifts from the formal to the real subsumption of life as the wage-labour relation and social reproduction based on commodity relations is supplemented with a material transformation made possible by oil (a home, car and family), and when 'life' is expressed materially as an 'individualized product of hard work, investment, competitive tenacity and entrepreneurial "life choices'". Huber argues this is central to creating and reinforcing the 'lived process' of...