Oil in Santa Barbara and Power in America*


  • *

    This paper was written as Working Paper No. 8, Community and Organization Research Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara. It was delivered at the 1969 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, San Francisco. A shorter version has been published in Ramparts November 1969. The author wishes to thank his wife, Linda Molotch, for her active collaboration and Robert Sollen, reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press for his cooperation and critical comments on an early draft.


The eruption of oil in Santa Barbara Channel has led to important revelations regarding the nature of power in America: who has it–and more importantly, how it is exercised such that existing societal institutions function to undermine dissent and minimize the opportunities for authentic change. The response of local aggrieved citizens to the system thus operating provides additional evidence that the development of radical left perspectives is induced by objective conditions of the American social system. The implications of “accidents” and different forms of “events” for the study of power are discussed.