Program: PhD
Supervisors: Philippe LeBillon and Trevor Barnes
Hometown: Victoria, BC

Mike Simpson’s research examines the political ecology of oil pipelines as a window into the contemporary political and economic moment. Across North America, pipelines such as Trans Mountain, Keystone XL, and Dakota Access have recently become heated flashpoints of political conflict. Mike asks why pipeline infrastructure have emerged as highly contentious objects of contestation after having been quietly built-up over the past century largely absent of conflict, treated as projects of a technical and logistical nature rather than a matter of politics. On the one hand, the impetus to construct new pipelines reflects the neoliberal re-spatialization of material flows from sites of extraction to consumption. On the other hand, many of those opposed to these projects act in politically creative and generative ways that bring emergent forms of territory and political community into being. Drawing on literature from the sub-fields of political ecology, Indigenous politics, and the new materialism, Mike demonstrates that there is much more at stake in these conflicts than the infrastructures themselves; in many ways, these are struggles to bring about new social, ecological, political, and economic futures.

Mike is affiliated with the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC, and is currently a visiting researcher at the University of Minnesota.