Dr Penelope Plaza’s book, Culture as Renewable Oil: How Territory, Bureaucratic Power and Culture Coalesce in the Venezuelan Petrostate, received a Special Commendation from the judging panel of the Political Geography Research Group Book Award (2019-2020).

Her book, regarded by the judging panel as “a fascinating read and an outstanding achievement”, was one of the five shortlisted entries for the PolGRG Book Award (2019-2020), granted in coordination with the Political Geography (PG) journal with support from the Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG).


A panel composed of representatives of both PolGRG (committee and selected members) and PG Journal reviewed all shortlisted entries. The communication sent by the PolGRG Secretary to Dr Plaza stated that: “while you were not awarded the prize on this occasion, we wanted to offer a special commendation to your work in order to acknowledge the strength of the book in what was a very strong pool of nominations”.

Panel comments on Culture as Renewable Oil: How Territory, Bureaucratic Power and Culture Coalesce in the Venezuelan Petrostate

“Culture as Renewable Oil is a fascinating and important contribution, conceptualising the relation between culture, politics, oil and urban space through a study of the Hugo Chávez era of Venezuelan Petro-Socialism (a political and economic model that utilises finance generated by oil to build a socialist state and society). Entwining theories of state space, bureaucratic power and culture as a resource, Plaza Azuaje corrects the compartmentalisation of the material and cultural effects of oil. To do so, the book considers how the state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela Sociedad Anónima (PDVSA), extended its role over cultural symbols, equating oil with culture and presenting oil as a renewable resource.

Plaza Azuaje provides a rich and fascinating discussion of the symbiotic and cyclical relationship between oil, territory, Bureaucratic Power and oil to inform debates in political geography and Energy Humanities. The book is empirically rich – drawing upon an extensive critical discourse analysis of key speeches, policy and news materials, along with a visual and textual analysis – and theoretically deep. Plaza Azuaje advances discussions within political and urban geography, connecting theories of State Space as territory and state theory (focusing on rentier theory and Bureaucratic Power) with literature on culture from Energy Humanities. The book is a key reading for anyone concerned with the role of culture in the city and in particular those that seek to understand its link with territory and power. With Venezuela currently caught in hyperinflation, economic stagnation, violence and political conflict, the book is empirically timely, revealing how the illusion of ‘culture as renewable oil’ is untenable. In short, it is a fascinating read and an outstanding achievement.”