Center for Environmental Policy and Administration

The use of gasoline: Value, oil, and the “American way of life.”

Author:Matthew Huber
Date: 2009
Publication:Antipode 41 (3): 465-486.

While the critical literature has focused on the geography of oil production, the politics of “outrageous” gasoline prices in the United States provide a fertile path toward understanding the wider geography of petro-capitalism. Despite the deepening contradictions of US oil consumption, “pain at the pump” discourse projects a political sense of entitlement to low priced gasoline. I use a value-theoretical perspective to examine this politics as not only about the quantitative spectrum of price, but also the historical sedimentation of qualitative use-values inscribed in the commodity gasoline. Gasoline is analyzed both as a use-value among many within the postwar value of labor power and as a singular use-value fueling broader imaginaries of a national “American way of life.” While use-value still represents an open site of cultural and political struggle infused within value itself, the case of gasoline illustrates how use-values are not automatically mobilized toward politically savory ends.


Matthew T Huber
Center for Environmental Policy and Administration
The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 02/09/2011 19:10:45