Project Description

Sean’s three-year post-doctoral research project aims to study how energy analysts, financial specialists, traders, portfolio managers and investment professionals conceptualize and value oil. Rather than taking a political standpoint, the goal is to interpret this vital commodity from the standpoint of financial stakeholders. The main objectives of the study are:

  1. To investigate the nuanced and overlapping ways that financial stakeholders value oil amid shifting trends in US energy production, consumption and exports.
  2. To examine how trends in the US economy, national politics, and climate-related divestment initiatives affect how financial stakeholders invest and make recommendations for investment in oil.
  3. To examine the relationship between the daily practices and understandings of financial stakeholders and how they conceptualize oil within the US and global economies.

The research methodology for this project is ethnographic and uses a range of methods including participant observation and unstructured interviews. Data is collected in a non-judgemental manner and stored according to strict university data protection policy guidelines designed to protect the anonymity of project participants.

This project is part of the larger Energy Ethics research project supervised by Dr Mette High in the Department of Social Anthropology at St Andrews University. The project is funded by the European Research Council.


Sean started his career in business and finance working with the Royal Bank of Canada during the housing frenzy of the early 2000s. After completing his Bachelor of Commerce (BComm, honours) at the University of Guelph (Canada), Sean left the financial sector to begin multidisciplinary graduate training. Sean earned his Master of Science (MSc) in Food Agriculture and Resource Economics and International Development at the University of Guelph, where Sean studied food supply chains and conducted several months of fieldwork in Ghana. During this time Sean also worked as a consultant for the World Bank. Sean earned his SSHRC-funded Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Economic Geography from Queen’s University (Canada) where he studied the intersection of financial and agricultural commodity markets. He has published articles in several academic journals including the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, Environment and Planning A, Geoforum, and Antipode.

Before relocating to St Andrews, Sean was a Lecturer in Economic Geography at the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography (Mississauga campus) and an Assistant Adjunct Professor at Queen’s University’s School of Policy Studies. Sean has also been an Adjunct Professor in Queen’s University’s Department of Geography and Planning and Smith School of Business. Over his university teaching career Sean has developed and delivered undergraduate and graduate courses on a number of topics including: Economic Geography, Energy and Society, Business and Industrial Geography, Economics of Social Policy, Applied Ethics, Human Resources Management, and Research Methods.

Sean has family ties to the extraction industry in the United States and Canada with two generations of family members having worked in mineral, oil and gas extraction, including in Houston, Texas, and Calgary, Alberta.