Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Katie Kane

Committee Co-chair

Robert Baker

Commitee Members

Steve Schwarze


Masculinity, Interior West, Petromodernity, Standing-Reserve


University of Montana

Subject Categories

American Literature | American Material Culture | American Popular Culture | Continental Philosophy | Human Geography | Literature in English, North America | Nonfiction | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


What is the significance of the oil encounter in the lives of men living and working in the modern oilfields of the United States? Engaging with both literary examples of the lives of men in the Interior West and the personal experiences and reflections of the author, this essay seeks to examine the connections between ideology and place as it works to shape the identity and affect of men in America's oilfields, ultimately ending in them identifying with the very resources their activities seek to exploit and exhaust. Utilizing Theodore Adorno's Minima Moralia as its moral touchstone, this essay works to point out the ways in which totalizing ideologies operate within the lives of individual men, and how those ideologies are perpetuated and structured by spatial/place-based concerns. The first section will examine how masculinity is represented in John McPhee's Rising From the Plains and Alexandra Fuller's The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, exploring how place informs and shapes the perception of masculinity. The aphoristic, meditative style of Minima Moralia also informs the structure of this work, as does Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts; the essay weaves personal experience with critical theory to attempt a synthesis of the two. Having worked for nearly four years in the oilfields of the Interior West, the author was able to witness both sides of the boom-bust dynamic that structures the oil industry, and the ramifications of that dynamic in the lives of individual men, himself included. Using Adorno's insights into the nature of totalizing ideology and the many subtle ways by which it perpetuates itself in culture and behavior, this essay utilizes the work of Nelson, Adorno, and Judith Butler, among others, to question just how ideology structures gender. By combining this with a concern for the spatially-bounded nature of human experience and the way that place informs identity, this essay looks at how a culture of resource extraction—"petroculture"—shapes and defines masculinity. While acknowledging the epistemic uncertainty of its approach this essay argues that through both conscious modeling and unconscious reactive conditioning, men foreclose on the possibilities for themselves and their shared world. This crippled sense of futurity leaves these men vulnerable to exploitation and exhaustion by the global market that seeks to extract the petroleum by means of these same men's labor.



© Copyright 2016 John W. Jepsen