The Kule Institute for Advanced Study (KIAS) marked its fifth anniversary this year with the announcement of a $500,000 research cluster grant awarded to six research projects across UAlberta’s social sciences, humanities and arts faculties.
This article is the first in a series profiling the four Arts research projects chosen to receive cluster grant funds.
“After Oil” is one of six interdisciplinary projects that will share the $500,000 research cluster grant. Based at UAlberta, After Oil is an international academic effort to advance studies around new forms of energy, and to examine the effect the transition from oil to other kinds of fuel will have on society.
The project operates under the rubric of the Petrocultures Research Group (PRG) – the first research group in Canada and one of the first in the world – to initiate interdisciplinary research on energy across the arts, humanities and social sciences.
“It’s an emergent field, and one wonders why there wasn’t more research on this to begin with,” says Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Department of English & Film Studies professor Imre Szeman. “Our project is one that tries to look at the ways in which oil is important to our society; it’s essential for researchers in social sciences and humanities to look at all of the ways at which oil and energy shape modern society.”
After Oil is the PRG’s flagship project and co-director Szeman says its mandate is to increase its support base locally, build its national and international profile, forge stronger and even more productive ties between After Oil co-applicants and partners, and establish new relationships with the project’s audiences and stakeholder publics.
“Fossil fuels are a limited resource and at some point we will have to make changes – whether its in five, 10 or 50 years, there will have to be a major shift socially,” says Szeman, adding he believes that shift will happen within the century. “As cultural critics and scientists we’re doing something unique to try to project future possibilities and foster discussion around this.”
The KIAS Cluster Grant will help support After Oil over the next three years as it pursues and secures SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) Partnership Grant funding.
“We received one year of KIAS funding and we hope over that year we can expand and develop our research partnerships so that we can successfully apply for additional funding,” explains Szeman.
Along with helping the team secure SSHRC funding, the grant money will go towards building a web presence for the project and creating an After Oil school for stakeholders and partners.
Some of After Oil’s current partners include government agencies like The National Energy Board and other academic institutions including Rice University and the UK-based Durham Energy Institute.
Now, Szeman says they plan to reach out to art galleries and museums in an effort to establish a creative vehicle that can help them share their findings in a socially engaging way.
“We think it’s important to generate a different way of communicating this research,” he says. “We’re not going to have typical exhibitions, we don’t want to lecture the people, we want to involve artists in order to shape interesting ways of teaching communities about these important social issues.”
It’s a work in progress, but it wouldn’t be possible without KIAS. In fact, it was an earlier KIAS grant that allowed UAlberta to position itself as a global leader in petrocultures – a word coined by Szeman and his team.
“The entire work on oil culture and society at the U of A has been made possible through KIAS funding and it’s a remarkable thing,” says Szeman. “We’re very lucky to have the institute here.”
For more information on petrocultures, visit the research website.
To read more about KIAS, follow this link, and watch this space for more profiles on Arts projects funded by this year’s KIAS Research Cluster Grant.
With files from Carmen Rojas.