Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
I revisit capitalist time from the vantage of a protracted pause in the development of oil resources in São Tomé and Príncipe (STP), a micro-island state in the African Atlantic. Despite more than two decades of petroleum exploration in the country’s maritime territory, STP has yet to see any commercial oil extraction. My fieldwork companions’ and friends’ initial thrill about petroleum prospects has given way to doubt, disillusionment, and weariness. I explore the pause in terms of the ethical and affective conundrums presented by oil’s futurity, articulated by the state, corporations, third-sector actors, and ordinary citizens. They give rise to specific regimes of living, associated with a set of interlocking temporal orientations (speculation, anticipation, and waiting) toward a future with oil. The pause thus prompts me to interrogate more orthodox social scientific studies of resource development, which tend to presume the successful commodification of resources, and to rethink established models of capitalist time, more broadly, which take capitalism’s future-orientation, accelerated pace, and expansiveness for granted. In contrast, my paper seeks to unpack the complexities of a process stymied by the socio-material constraints of a resource whose precise geological contours and economic value are relatively opaque.