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The Use of Gasoline: Value, Oil, and the “American way of life”

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While the critical literature has focused on the geography of oil production, the politics of “outrageous” gasoline prices in the United States provide a fertile path toward understanding the wider geography of petro-capitalism. Despite the deepening contradictions of US oil consumption, “pain at the pump” discourse projects a political sense of entitlement to low priced gasoline. I use a value-theoretical perspective to examine this politics as not only about the quantitative spectrum of price, but also the historical sedimentation of qualitative use-values inscribed in the commodity gasoline. Gasoline is analyzed both as a use-value among many within the postwar value of labor power and as a singular use-value fueling broader imaginaries of a national “American way of life.” While use-value still represents an open site of cultural and political struggle infused within value itself, the case of gasoline illustrates how use-values are not automatically mobilized toward politically savory ends.

Keywords: gasoline; use-value; value theory; “American way of life”

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Graduate School of Geography, Clark University, Worcester, MA, USA;, Email:

Publication date: June 1, 2009


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