“Homo Ludens, Meet Homo Faber”: Hope, Power, and Resources in the African Post-Colony.
In my ethnographic fieldwork in São Tomé and Príncipe (STP), a small African Atlantic island state and former Portuguese colony, I frequently encountered the notion that “Santomeans do not work.” This assertion had particular weight in the light of impending offshore oil production. Excessive expectations and so-called rent seeking, taking the place of productive labour, were feared to be the inappropriate responses to future wealth. The hope for “unearned” wealth and prosperity, more generally, has come to be seen as a problem in many post-colonial settings shaped by resource extraction, but this problem has remained remarkably unquestioned. This paper does two things. First, it examines the widespread efforts by international agencies to manage expectations and channel hope in STP, for example, through public awareness campaigns and civil society building. I argue that the politics of anticipation implemented, here, seeks to effect a particular kind of temporal disposition toward oil decidedly different from the “hopeful” practices of ordinary and not-so-ordinary Santomeans. Second, I show that in order to fully comprehend the problem of hope in STP, and specifically of hope as practical engagement between people, resources and the non-human world, we need to trace its historical antecedents. I suggest that the methodological response to the Santomean problem of hope should be not psychology, sociology, or economics but ontological critique. Freed slaves refusing plantation labour and citizens destroying crops intended to support the population of a newly independent state seem to express forms of agency (through rejection or spoilage) and temporal affects (hope but also dejection) specific to different extractive environments. My analysis draws on critical temporalities and anthropology to tease out the emergent orientations in time – time experienced not neutrally but always suffused by power – across these colonial and postcolonial moments.
Gisa Weszkalnys is lecturer in anthropology at the London School of Economics. She has conducted research on natural resource development, interdisciplinary research practices, and the cultural politics of urban planning. Her books include Berlin, Alexanderplatz: Transforming Place in a Unified Germany (2010) and Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World (2013, coedited with Simone Abram). Her current work examines the temporality and materiality of oil exploitation in the Gulf of Guinea.
Keywords: politics of anticipation, hope, materiality, natural resources, temporal affects
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013