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Hobbs, Graham (2019) British Imperialism and Oil : A History of British Petroleum,1901-2016. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis presents a history of British Petroleum (BP), from its origins in 1901 until 2016, in the context of the history of British imperialism as a whole. It draws on Marxist studies of imperialism and the international political economy of oil. BP was a company of Britain’s empire. Its history begins in the “classical” age of imperialism. Its concessions were the products not just of inter-imperial rivalries but of inter-imperial alliances too. The change in the relative strengths of Britain and America necessitated a redistribution of control over Middle Eastern oil. The thesis charts this redivision. After the company struck oil in Alaska in 1969, BP’s production, sales and assets Americanised. To minimise the political risks to its US assets, BP sought to limit its ownership by foreign states (in particular, Britain and Kuwait) and to expand its ownership by Americans. At the start of the 1990s, the company again Americanised its shareholder base and, at the turn of the millennium, it acquired two American oil companies. It did so, in part, to protect its assets outside America, via the US state. In terms of ownership and a measure of control, BP became bi-national, Anglo-American. The thesis examines the relations between BP and the British and American states in terms of Marxist theories of the state. In terms of structuralist mechanisms and instrumentalist processes of colonisation, BP was closer to the British than the American state. And the company received more support from the former than the latter in the international arena. Since 2003, Russia has been BP’s largest source of hydrocarbons and BP has been Russia’s largest foreign producer. The thesis examines BP’s partnerships with Russian “oligarchs” and then with the Russian state, in particular, its equity stake and positions on the board of state-controlled Rosneft.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Gilbert Achcar
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 03 Mar 2020 14:12

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