Follow the Thing

True learning must not be content with ideas, which are, in fact, signs, but must discover things in their individual truth

– Umberto Eco, The Name of The Rose

To ‘follow a thing’ is a term that comes from Ian Cook’s study of the international chain that links papaya growers to consumers of the fruit. It now finds larger use in academic studies of geography and refers to tracing part or all of a commodity’s journey from initial production to final consumer. To follow a thing is to step outside abstract ideas of globalization, economics, politics, and cultural studies and to return one to the realm of the real. Over the pages of this blog, I hope to follow the path of oil.

Now, oil in and of itself is a colossus of a commodity; to attempt to trace all oil around the world exceeds the scope of this blog, let alone a single book. Instead, I will give an brief overview of the history of oil, the dynamics within its production, its movement around the world, and its advertising and selling.


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