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Untangling the myth of 'culture as renewable oil’: a Barthesian exploration of PDVSA La Estancia’s visual campaign Transformamos el petróleo en un recurso renovable para ti

Plaza, P. (2019) Untangling the myth of 'culture as renewable oil’: a Barthesian exploration of PDVSA La Estancia’s visual campaign Transformamos el petróleo en un recurso renovable para ti. In: Graves, H. and Beard, D. E. (eds.) The Rhetoric of Oil in the Twenty-First Century: Government, Corporate and Activist Discourses. Routledge.

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Hugo Chávez claimed he was a building a socialism different to the one that Marx had envisioned, his socialism was the socialism of the 21st century, a Bolivarian socialism, a socialism fed and supported by the oil rent, in sum, petrosocialism. My current research explores the relationship between the petrostate, the state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., and public space in Venezuela, focusing primarily on the work of PDVSA La Estancia -the social and cultural arm of the state owned oil company- and the construction of imaginaries of petrosocialism in the city of Caracas. This paper asks: what does a petrosocialist city look like? To answer this question, I will look in particular at the advertising campaign launched by PDVSA La Estancia in 2013, titled Transformamos el petróleo en un recurso renovable para tí (We transform oil into a renewable source for you) drawing on George Yúdice’s The Expediency of Culture and Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. Yúdice argues that culture, or rather the notion of culture, has acquired the status of “natural resource”, something that can be exploited, invested and utilized for economic, social and political purposes. This expediency, or convenience of culture, is driven by a performativity that implies the institutional forces or models sanctioned by the state that guide such performance. Barthes defined Myth as a special type of speech, a form of signification defined more by its intention than its literal sense. For Barthes, everything can be a myth as long as “it is conveyed by a discourse”; in this sense, all mediums of visual representation can serve as vehicles for mythical speech whose function is to naturalize the dominant ideology. I will argue that the adverts provide a fabricated imaginary of urban life and culture under petrosocialism, a complex vision of a particular lived geography that attempts to integrate high culture and oil aesthetics into urban spaces that will be governed by the socialist/communal legal instruments of the Bolivarian revolution. This paper will contribute to current the debates on how the cultural understanding of oil as a substance that can grant petrostates with the "magical" powers (Coronil, 1997; Lopez Maya, 2007) to transform it into modernity, progress and wealth, has shaped society itself (Debeir, Deléage, & Hémery, 1991; Mitchell, 2011) but also the institutions of the state, the framework and process for decision-making, as well as policy making (Lynn Karl, 1997).

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Science > School of the Built Environment > Architecture
Science > School of the Built Environment > Urban Living group
ID Code:72735


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