3260 South Street, Penn Museum, Room 345
Oil and the Licit Life of Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea
Critical approaches to capitalism often argue that profit-oriented market practices exacerbate inequality. Drawing on fieldwork from U.S. based oil companies in Equatorial Guinea, this talk argues that markets are in fact made by that inequality. Global markets, the oil market chief among them, do not merely deepen racialized and gendered postcolonial disparities; they are constituted by them. Drawing from material on subcontracts and marriage contracts in Equatorial Guinea's oil industry, I show how forms of racial segregation and heteronormative domestic intimacy come to proxy for "the rules of the economy." More generally, the talk draws attention to the licit life of capitalism— contracts and subcontracts, infrastructures, economic theory, corporate enclaves--practices that are legally sanctioned, widely replicated, and even ordinary, at the same time as they are messy, contested and, to many, indefensible. Rather than bring critical attention to the scandals that saturate capitalism’s daily life, not least in the oil industry, and not least in sub-Saharan Africa, I suggest that oil in Equatorial Guinea counter-intuitively offers an ideal place in which to explore what we might take to be the opposite of scandal. Contracts and corporate enclaves, offshore rigs and economic theory were the assemblages of liberalism and racialized labor, expertise and technology, gender and spatialized domesticity, that made an industry operating on the edge of legitimacy and legality formally legitimate, legal, and productive of extraordinary profit.