Seminar: Oil’s Destructive Peace: A history of symbolic violence and anomie in Gamba, Gabon

Oil represents quick, easy, and substantial cash flows.  It is almost always centrally managed from above, and often easily disrupted from below. From popularized theories of the resource curse to “rentierism,” analysts have brandished these instances to paint damning forecasts of state corruption, environmental devastation, displacement, and corporal violence. But what we rarely acknowledge is that oil is also de-historicizing.  Other, equally impactful narratives are overshadowed by the dominant discourse of oil as cause and effect, e.g. the existence of overtly peaceful extractive zones and the supposed banality of everyday experience in these localities. These are often overlooked not only because of attention-grabbing media images of gas flaring, bunkering, or profligate ruling families, but also because it is assumed that—absent oil’s visibly negative effects—oil can only be a boon to local and national economies. Unfortunately, such oversimplification and either/or fallacies have helped obscure other forms of violence and anomie which often arise when heavy industry transforms once-agrarian dynamics. This seminar tells a story of social and political ruptures in Gamba, Gabon, the enclaved site of Shell-Gabon’s onshore terminal since the 1960s, which itself receives crude from one of the largest oilfields on the continent, Rabi-Kounga.  It is also the story of a community located in one of the continent’s most unknown, yet intransigent, “rentier states.”  But it is above all a history of people, the interactions between them, and the consequences of ill-adaptation to changing cosmologies, changing societies, and changing currencies of power. By stitching together onsite interviews and archival data, this seminar relates an oil-bearing community which is both overtly peaceful and connotatively violent.

Joseph Mangarella is a PhD candidate working on oil-bearing communities in Gabon and Ghana, where he uses ethnography to compare the relative impact of local governance on long-term social and political anomie. His research interests include resource extraction and governance in equatorial Africa, and he is currently co-organizing a workshop entitled “The Long-Term: Tracing Legacies of Violence in francophone Equatorial Africa”, to take place in Libreville in November 2018. Joseph is also a regular contributor to the Africa Yearbook (Brill), in which he authors the volume’s chapter on Equatorial Guinea.

Currently, Joseph Mangarella is a LeidenASA visiting PhD candidate.

Date, time and location

29 October 2018
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden