Society for Economic Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
With oil reserves dwindling, efforts to create a diversified, post-oil economy in Oman have focused in part on the cultivation of citizen entrepreneurs and the production of a distributive ecosystem to support them. In an environment in which economic ‘growth’ is driven by state-guided subsidy rather than market mechanisms, dreams of a yet-to-arrive ‘knowledge economy’ and regimes of economic expertise tasked with bringing it into being have become an indispensable feature of the Omani state’s oil-funded distributive arrangements. In this paper, I explore the role of entrepreneurship and neoliberal fantasy in the production of illiberal, rentier subjects and the distributive practices that sustain them. Building on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Oman, I argue that state-guided efforts to subsidize both the supply of Omani entrepreneurs and the demand for their services have not generated new neoliberal economic arrangements but rather have led to the creation of rent-seeking enterprises that use distributive investments of one sort to seek out distributive investments of another. In this context, efforts to transform the ‘mindsets’ of potential citizen entrepreneurs and to promote dynamic, risk-taking, entrepreneurial dispositions have led to the creation of distributive arrangements that allocate resources on the basis of enactments of entrepreneurial virtue. Ultimately, I argue that it is the association of entrepreneurship with market-based neoliberalism that has allowed it function as a vector for rentier governmentality, a vector that is particularly effective in the context of increasing pressures to diversify.