Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Paul K. Gellert

Committee Members

Jon Shefner, Sherry Cable, Michael McKinney


Sociologists have underestimated the importance and power of organizations established to unify capitalist firms and interests. Existing research on trade associations tends to take one of two approaches, either atheoretical studies developing typologies of trade association activities or cultural sociological approaches overemphasizing the cultural significance of these organizations for business communities. Utilizing Marxian organizational theory, this dissertation conceptualizes trade associations as inherently capitalist organizations created to build and maintain the interests of the capitalist class. This perspective is applied to build an historical sociological case study of the formation and subsequent activities of the American Petroleum Institute (API), the largest trade association representing the petroleum industry in the United States. Findings show that the creation of API came only after capitalists in the petroleum sector recognized their mutual, class-based interests. Prior to the establishment of API, in the late 1800s, the petroleum industry was marked by bitter divisions and monopolistic practices that exacerbated an unstable economic and political environment. World War I proved to be a crucial period in which the state called on industry leaders to work together to produce and deliver war supplies. Their wartime experiences led petroleum capitalists to recognize their collective interests and therefore to create API just after the war. The planning processes that went into its creation shaped API as the leading formal organization through which petroleum sector capitalists could work together to protect and promote their collective, class-based interests. Since its inception in 1919, API has served to solidify both internal organization of the petroleum industry via the creation of standards and statistics and build strength via external activities to promote the interests of petro-capitalists against challenges from labor and the state, as well as through broader promotion of petroleum’s so-called necessity with the general public.

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