Chronotopes of Petromodernity: Oil and Mobile Privatization in the 1950s
Theories of modernity in fields such as sociology and media studies frequently deal with people’s relationships to space and time, but they have overlooked the role that oil and its derivatives play in shaping those relationships. This article addresses that oversight by considering how the transition from coal to oil in Europe and North America in the years leading up to and following the Second World War shaped the phenomenon of mobile privatization, as proposed by media theorist Raymond Williams. Oil’s transportability and energy density influenced the choices people made as they moved from cities to suburbs, while electricity, derived largely from coal, influenced their evolving notions of privacy. These shifts in turn affected how Europeans and North Americans negotiated their identities with respect to the categories of family, community, and nation.