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The Hope of Oil: An Ethnography of a Santomean Problem | Engaging Resources
New Anthropological Perspectives on Natural Resource Environments

The Hope of Oil: An Ethnography of a Santomean Problem

Gisa Weszkalnys, University of Exeter

This paper discusses hope as a key temporal/prospective affect regarding natural resources. Following the recent identification of potentially vast oil reserves in the maritime territory of São Tomé and Príncipe (STP), the hope of oil became quickly seen as a problem. But although “hope” – alongside rent seeking and corruption – appears in the scholarly literature as one of the most common human responses to (the prospect of) resource extraction, this has not been sufficiently theorized. This paper examines the nature of the problem that hope poses in STP, by contrasting the hopeful practices of ordinary and not-so-ordinary Santomeans with the efforts to channel hopes, for example, through public awareness campaigns. It shows, first, that rather than being considered as a political problem, hope is cast as an externality to STP’s nascent oil economy to be dealt with by technical means.  Second, it suggests that, as both hope and its problematization have historical antecedents in STP’s colonial and postcolonial past, our methodological response to it should be not psychology or sociology but genealogy.