In today’s blog, originally a ‘Snapshot’ in Environment and History 28.3 (August 2022), Tanja Riekkinen investigates petroculture as a ‘socio-technical imaginary’, proposing that ‘exploring the history of sociotechnical imaginaries related to energy’ – specifically positive advertisements for oil’s place in a bright future – ‘may provide novel perspectives for understanding current envisionings and practices of legitimation concerning energy futures’.


To mitigate climate crisis, the energy transition from fossil fuels to carbon neutral or low-carbon energy sources has emerged as a widely shared future scenario across the globe, including in the Nordic countries. The carbon neutrality target can also be understood as a sociotechnical imaginary.[1] Sociotechnical imaginaries, a concept developed by STS scholars Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim, are ‘collectively held, institutionally stabilized, and publicly performed visions of desirable futures, animated by shared understandings of forms of social life and social order attainable through, and supportive of, advances in science and technology’.[2] However, carbon neutrality is not the first sociotechnical imaginary in human history, but rather an imaginary among a multitude of imaginaries. The aim of my ongoing dissertation research is to explore the history of Finnish petroculture[3] through the lens of sociotechnical imaginaries.

In this paper, I will shed light on the vision that the Finnish national oil corporation Neste promoted in its advertising[4]. I will also consider whether the vision changed and how its characteristics may be explained. The paper’s timeframe spans from 1957 to the turn of the 1960s and 1970s because Neste’s first refinery was launched in 1957 and a slight change in its vision occurred around 1970. Primary sources consist of 44 different advertisements.[5] As official materials of Neste, the materials reliably manifest Neste’s visions. In addition to employing the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries as a methodological tool, I use content analysis and historical analysis. 


Oil has been utilised by human beings for millennia. However, since the emergence of oil industry in the nineteenth century, the global production and consumption of oil has increased dramatically.[6] In Finland, which lacks its own oil resources, the consumption of liquid fuels rose rapidly from the mid-1960s to the First Oil Crisis in 1973. Thisdevelopment was connected with the increase in oil production in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, Finnish-Soviet bilateral trade and the objective of maintaining independence in the context of the Cold War.[7]

Neste’s first oil refinery in Naantali was launched in 1957 and the second in Porvoo in 1966. Petroleum products refined by the corporation were often marketed by other oil and petrol companies[8] who operated in Finland. Neste itself advertised mainly fuel oils and bitumen.[9] The following quotation from an advertisement published soon after the launch of the second refinery (see Figure 1) captures the key elements of the vision that Neste repeated in its advertising, albeit in varying terms, during the period under scrutiny:

… The processing of petroleum products and oil derivatives in the home country and their expedient exploitation serves our entire national economy. With the help of its storage network and its ships, Neste Oy ensures uninterrupted deliveries to its customers regardless of seasonal variations in consumption. Meeting the requirements of the international market, Neste Oy develops its products especially with a view to Finnish operating conditions. Neste Oy is constantly looking to the future to promote the welfare of Finnish society – Your welfare.[10] 

(Author’s translation)

Neste repeatedly justified its vision for the future by underlining the benefits of the Finnish oil refining industry for both individual consumers and Finnish society as a whole. The advertisements promised conveniences such as assured supply of fuel oil anywhere in Finland at all times of the year and the possibility to drive on Finland’s ‘safe, flat and dust-free roads’. Neste repeatedly underlined economic advantages as a collective good provided by the national oil refining industry.[11] In general, it is obvious that the corporation’s objectives, as well as the Cold War context were reflected in the advertising. At the time, the flow of ‘red oil’ to Finland was of crucial importance in the Finnish-Soviet bilateral trade.[12]

Figure 1. A Neste advertisement titled ‘Tämä on suomalaista yrittäjätoimintaa [This is Finnish entrepreneurship]’ with images of Porvoo and Naantali oil refineries and Neste’s oil tanker m/t Tervi. Source: Kansan Uutiset 318, 24 Nov. 1966, p. 8, Digital Collections of the National Library of Finland.

The advertisements depicted science and technology as integral elements in the aforementioned visions of the collective and individual good. The majority featured energy and related infrastructure and technology, such as Neste’s oil refineries, oil tankers (see Figure 2), storage facilities and tanker trucks supplying fuel oil to customers. Science was presented as a guarantee of the quality of petroleum products. A slight shift in the envisioning took place at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s after three oil spills occurred in Finnish territorial waters. Presumably as a response to public criticism towards Neste,[13] the corporation highlighted various technological means by which the corporation was prepared for oil spills as well as those that could help in avoiding and managing oil accidents in the future.[14]

Figure 2. ‘Esteet on raivattava taloudellisen kasvun tieltä [Obstacles must be removed to make way for economic growth]’ declared Neste’s advertisement in winter 1967. Source: Uusi Suomi 310, 5 Dec. 1967, p. 12, Digital Collections of the National Library of Finland.
Figure 3. Although it highlighted its own measures, Neste stated in 1970 that Finnish society was also responsible for ensuring the safety of maritime routes. Source: Etelä-Suomen Sanomat 25, 27 Jan. 1970, p. 9, Digital Collections of the National Library of Finland.


While at the moment the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables is envisaged in the quest for carbon neutrality, in the middle of the twentieth century various actors saw oil and related technoscience as key elements in the pathway towards a brighter future. This line of thought was promoted, for example, by Neste in its advertising in the period from 1957 to the turn of the 1960s and 1970s. In these future visions, the development of national oil industry and related infrastructure were thoroughly entangled with visions of desirable sociotechnical futures both for individual consumers and Finnish society as a whole. The vision took on new tones around 1970 when Neste, as a result of changes in context, began to highlight technological means by which oil spills could be managed. The existing advertising practices and the historical context had a crucial influence on how Neste chose to represent scientific and technological pathways to the public.  Overall, advertising can be understood both as an expression of existing sociotechnical imaginaries and as a way of recommitting to these imaginaries, in this case, the imaginary of a national Finnish petroculture. Although history does not repeat itself as such, exploring the history of sociotechnical imaginaries related to energy may provide novel perspectives for understanding current envisionings and practices of legitimation concerning energy futures.


I am greatly indebted to Karen Jones and Sarah Johnson for their kind editorial support, review and suggestions. This doctoral research has received funding from the Kone Foundation, the Otto A. Malm Foundation and the Kerttu Saalasti Foundation.

[1] K. Karhunmaa, Imagining Energy Transitions: Carbon Neutrality in Finland. (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Helsinki, 2021), pp. 1–4, 14; B.K. Sovacool, ‘Contestation, contingency, and justice in the Nordic low-carbon energy transition’, Energy Policy 102 (2017): 569–82; See also European Union, ‘Investing in a sustainable energy future for Europe’, The Official Webpage of the European Union, https://european-union.europa.eu/priorities-and-actions/actions-topic/energy_en (accessed 18 March 2022).

[2] S. Jasanoff and S. Kim ‘Containing the atom: Sociotechnical imaginaries and nuclear power in the United States and South Korea’, Minerva 47(2009): 119–46; S. Jasanoff, ‘Future imperfect: Science, technology and the imaginations of modernity’, in Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim (eds), Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 2015), pp. 1–33.

[3] The concept of petroculture refers to a culture that is shaped by the use of oil resources. For previous research on petrocultures, see, for example, V. Tynkkynen, Venäjä, energiavalta: öljykulttuuri kohtaa ilmastonmuutoksen (Gaudeamus, 2022); S. Wilson, A. Carlson and I. Szeman (eds), Petrocultures: Oil, Politics, Culture (Montreal, Kingston, London, Chicago: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017). For previous research on the history of oil in Finland, see, for example, M. Kuisma, Kylmä sota, kuuma öljy: Neste, Suomi ja kaksi Eurooppaa (Porvoo, Helsinki, Juva: Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö, 1997); N. Jensen-Eriksen, ‘The first wave of the Soviet oil offensive: The Anglo-American alliance and the flow of “red oil” to Finland during the 1950s’, Business History 49 (3) (2007): 348–66; S. Laakkonen and A. Lehmuskoski, ‘Musta meri: Öljyonnettomuuksien ympäristöhistoriaa Suomessa vuoteen 1969’, Historiallinen Aikakauskirja 103 (2005): 381–96; T. Räsänen, Itämeren ympäristökriisi ja uuden merisuhteen synty Suomessa 1960-luvulta 1970-luvun puoliväliin. (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Turku, Turku 2015); E. Sinivaara, Ympäristövahinkouutinen Antonio Gramsci: Neuvostotankkerin öljypäästöt ja torjuntatoimet suomalaisessa mediassa vuosina 1979 ja 1987. (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Turku, Turku 2020).

[4] According to Jasanoff, advertising can manifest sociotechnical imaginaries. Jasanoff, ‘Future Imperfect’, p. 27.

[5] The advertisements were published in newspapers and magazines: Etelä-Suomen SanomatKansan Uutiset, Länsi-SavoMaaseudun TulevaisuusRajamme vartijatHuoltaja, Suomen Sosialidemokraatti, Uusi Suomi, Tekniikan Maailma and Suomen Kuvalehti. The materials were retrieved from the Finnish National Library’s Digital Collections using search commands.

[6] B.C. Black, Crude Reality: Petroleum in World History (Lanham, Boulder, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014), pp. 241–45; V. Smil, Oil: A Beginner’s Guide, second edition (London: Oneworld, 2017), p. 137, 162–63.

[7] Kuisma, ‘A child of the Cold War’, pp. 136–39; Jensen-Eriksen, ‘The first wave of the Soviet oil offensive’, p. 348; T. Myllyntaus, ‘Farewell to self-sufficiency: Finland and the globalization of fossil fuels’, in Marja Järvelä and Sirkku Juhola (eds), Energy, Policy, and the Environment: Modeling Sustainable Development for the North (New York: Springer Verlag, 2011), p. 35.

[8] For example, in 1966, Neste supplied petroleum products to BP-Petko, Esso, Gulf, Shell, Teboil, E-Öljyt, Kesoil and Union. Kuisma, Kylmä sota, kuuma öljy, p. 368.

[9] Kuisma, Kylmä sota, kuuma öljy, pp. 237, 368; J. Kortti, Modernisaatiomurroksen kaupalliset merkit: 60-luvun suomalainen televisiomainonta (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2003), p. 358.

[10] Neste, ’Tämä on suomalaista yrittäjätoimintaa’ (advertisement) Kansan Uutiset 318, 24 Nov.1966.

[11] See, for example, Neste, ‘KORKEALUOKKAISIA POLTTOÖLJYJÄ’ (advertisement), Suomen Sosialidemokraatti 167, 25 June 1962; Neste, ‘NESTE LUO LÄMPÖÄ’ (advertisement), Maaseudun Tulevaisuus 66, 11 June 1963; Neste, ‘Neste luo lämpöä’ (advertisement), Uusi Suomi 281, 16 Oct. 1963; Neste, ‘Tämä on suomalaista öljynjalostusta’ (advertisement), Suomen Sosialidemokraatti 48, 30 March 1964; ‘Nesteen polttoöljy ja öljylämmitys luovat viihtyisän lämmintä tunnelmaa koteihin, teattereihin, kaikkialle’; Neste, ‘Bensiinejä polttoöljyjä nestekaasua bitumituotteita’ (advertisement), Rajamme Vartijat 4, 1 Aug.1965; Neste, ‘Tämä on suomalaista yrittäjätoimintaa’ (advertisement), Kansan Uutiset 318, 24 Nov.1966.

[12] Kuisma, ‘A Child of the Cold War’, p. 136.

[13] According to Tuomas Räsänen, ‘a media spectacle’ broke out in the aftermath of oil spills in 1969 as the accidents caused extensive environmental damage. Räsänen, Itämeren ympäristökriisi ja uuden merisuhteen synty Suomessa 1960-luvulta 1970-luvun puoliväliin, pp. 230, 232.

[14] Neste, ‘Hyvää Uutta Vuotta, Hyvää, puhtaampaa merivettä!’ (advertisement), Uusi Suomi 351, 30 Dec. 1969; Neste, ‘Parempi virsta valaistua kuin vaaksa vaaraa’ (advertisement), Uusi Suomi 21, 23 Jan. 1970.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s