I specialize in the ethnographic study of natural resources, specifically oil in Africa. In the past, I have carried out intensive research on the politics of urban planning, resulting in the monograph Berlin, Alexanderplatz: Transforming Place in a Unified Germany (Berghahn, 2010) and in an edited volume Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World (ed. with Simone Abram, Berghahn 2013). I have also worked on interdisciplinary research policy and practice in Germany, the UK, and the US. In addition, I have carried out consultancy research in the field of natural resources, social development, and expectation management.
My most recent research explores expectations and fears regarding future oil extraction in São Tomé and Príncipe, a former Portuguese colony and independent island state in the African Atlantic. Through ethnographic fieldwork in 2007, I have followed the widespread speculations regarding offshore oil reserves in STP’s maritime territory, and the kind of anticipatory politics they have triggered, including World Bank governance programmes and NGO campaigns aimed at preventing a ‘resource curse’. My work critically examines expectations of oil as a future source of wealth and prosperity but also as a possible harbinger social conflict, which echo contemporary notions of African countries as abundant but perilous and corrupt resource providers. It interrogates the incomplete efforts to control people’s hopes (and disappointment) regarding oil, and shows how local apprehensions of resource extraction articulate with colonial and post-colonial hopes of socio-economic change. I have used ethnographic methods and anthropological theory to re-think problems that have been the mainstay of economists and political scientists. Simultaneously, my research sheds new light on issues that have been at the forefront of economic anthropology and anthropological studies of Africa in recent years, including citizenship, economic subjectivity, wealth, fortune and misfortune, and connects them to broader social theoretical debates on temporality and materiality. I am now working on a book manuscript entitled A Doubtful Hope: Oil Speculation on Africa's Margin.
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