Northwestern Events Calendar


Hannah Appel - "Oil and the Licit Life of Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea"

When: Monday, February 11, 2019
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM Central

Where: University Hall, Hagstrum 201, 1897 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: FREE

Contact: Janet Hundrieser   847.491.3525

Group: Science in Human Culture Program - Klopsteg Lecture Series

Category: Lectures & Meetings



Hannah Appel, Anthropology, UCLA


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, Professor Appel shows 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, she suggests 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.


Hannah Appel is an economic anthropologist interested in the daily life of capitalism, the private sector in Africa, and the re-emergent dialogue between economics and anthropology. Her research and teaching interests are guided by the economic imagination. How can we expand the field of economic possibility in an interconnected, power-laden world? She is also fundamentally committed to ethnographic research as a vibrant method for asking new questions and formulating new answers about the world in which we live. Her current book project, Futures: Oil and the Licit Life of Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea, explores the U.S. based oil and gas industry’s efforts to disentangle the production of profit from the frictions of place; to manage risk, liability, and responsibility through a work-intensive project she calls modularity—the mobile and licit infrastructures, labor forces, and imaginaries required to animate spectacular accumulation off Equatorial Guinea’s shores. The Futures project dwells on questions of infrastructure, the contract and the corporate form, and the ethnographic life of Equatorial Guinea’s national economy.

Professor Appel is currently developing a second ethnographic project—Pan African Capital: Finance, Banking, and Economic Self-Fashioning—to continue her inquiry into the licit life of capitalism in Africa’s private sector, and the displacement of how and from where we think about global capitalism. Pan African Capital is a multi-sited project based on ethnographic work with transnational, African-owned banks and financial institutions on the continent.
She also works extensively with ongoing Occupy Wall Street projects including Strike Debt and the Debt Collective. These projects work to reimagine finance, capitalism, and economic possibilities for our time, and they demand that the tools of critical theory and the anthropology of finance be tested and sharpened in dynamic public praxis.



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