Research themes


Work Packages Project Phase II


1. The governance of oil in the oil state's metropolis

While the advent of the oil age can be felt in every corner of an oil state, the oil state’s metropolis is drawn into a veritable whirlpool of events. Here, oil sets off dynamics of political, economic and cultural activity and creativity that – at least at first sight – easily outshine the development in the rest of the country. Therefore, this WP addresses the need to deal with the immense transformations that oil inflicts upon the political and cultural space of the African oil state’s metropolis and organises an urban anthropology of oil. We intend to complement our continuing study of finance and legal regulations with a study of the cultural politics focusing on the display of oil riches in the urban architecture, the reconstruction of city quarters, in short, the metamorphosis of a warlord’s headquarter into a Dubai-styled Central African show case. Addressing the cultural self-image and consumption patterns of an aspiring class of oil-rent profiteers, this research includes the transformation of the public space.


2. Chinese oil industry meets African economy

In this WP we scrutinize elements of the local Nigerien and Chadian economy that make use of opportunities provided by the presence of the oil industry (in particular the Chinese) and that are at the same time used by this industry to deliver a number of outsourced tasks and services (e.g. local security firms, the transport sector, merchants that supply the industry, resellers of refined products, buyers of large quantities of refined products). This WP responds to the fact that the Chinese engagement in African oil production is part of a more comprehensive industrial project that differs from former economic policies of simply transferring a valuable energy resource to foreign centres of industrial production and consumption (in particular USA and Europe). The Chinese oil industry allows for a still tentative but clearly visible development of so-called backward and forward linkages between oil production and the rest of African economies. These linkages provide space for the creative and adaptive processes, through which the Chinese industry and various parts of the African economy learn to cooperate and fulfil the needs of each other. Moreover, it will be scrutinized how African supply chains used for the delivery of goods and services are re-ordered in order to respond the bureaucratic as well as technological exigencies of the Chinese oil industry as a major purchaser.


3. Technologies of looting and securing of oil and oil production facilities

In this WP we continue to analyse the connections between oil revenues and insurgency, but our results shall be complemented by a focus on the material aspects of oil (the oil as substance and the equipment and facilities used for production). The production of oil is always accompanied by massive technologies of securing, controlling and policing within the oil production zone. These technologies respond to feared and real processes of looting, sabotage and theft that can be easily expected in areas of poverty and high numbers of young, unemployed males. It is of considerable interest to the project that potential looters will have to cope with a natural, technological and social environment. In land-locked Niger and Chad, such activities will have to be inventive to cope with the peculiar difficulties of tapping, storing, transporting and illegally marketing oil. Solutions will be found in adapted technologies of handling the viscous liquid of oil in a land-locked savannah environment but also in a less arduous and “cleaner” way such as the tampering with delivery notes.


4. The politics of naming, blaming and claiming in oil conflict settings

This WP will concentrate on one aspect of the multiple and multi-level social practices of signification that can be observed in the Chadian and Nigerien oil state. The construction and articulation of social meanings related to oil and the oil state in various forms of communicative exchange (ranging from daily gossip over verbal contributions to gatherings and meetings to news articles in the media, e.g.) generally includes the social acts of naming, blaming and claiming. In order to elucidate how social or interest groups organise mutual encounters of negotiation through the production of social meanings (significations of oil) the WP will enable us to theoretically integrate the concepts of order and signification by showing how an existing order (e.g. rentier relations) shapes the creative production of meanings and how produced meanings are used to either attack or merge with that order. Moreover, it will be seen how signifying practices become crucial organisational elements prerequisite to establishing order and how they form part of the quintessential technologies (next to tangible resources to which they are connected) through which order is produced.


5. Images of China – images of Africa

The new Chinese oil producing activities Chad and Niger closely resemble each other and seem to be based on blueprint approaches. This enables the project to compare China’s engagement in Niger and Chad to the already established, American based oil production (mainly ExxonMobil) in the Doba region. The focus of this WP lies on studying the implementation of Chinese oil politics and how they translate into everyday practices and images of the other in the oil extracting and oil refining regions of Niger and Chad. The leading question concerns Chinese oil-politics that are framed as an “equal partnership”, a “win-win relation” and that, by “political non-interference”, go hand in hand with a rapid industrialisation based on low-cost production. How do these politics manifest on the level of everyday interactions and negotiations and what are the significations of “the other” (Chinese vs. Nigerien/Chadian) that are produced and negotiated within these interactions.



Work Packages Project Phase I (2011-2013)


1. Modes of central governance and finance

Oil revenues significantly increase the national budget available to the governments of Niger and Chad, and thereby their scope of action. Therefore, the research lays one focus on governance and the financial sector. Special emphasis will be on key actors and administrative structures in the ministry of mining and their dynamic processes of change induced by oil production.


2. Local governance

A fixed part of the oil revenues goes to local communities in the oil region, intended to further development (15% of oil revenues in Niger for communities in the Diffa region and 5% for the oil region around Doba in southern Chad). Against this background new actors and also new conflicts are expected to emerge in which positions of authority and local power, political ideologies and interests are negotiated. In all probability, these conflicts will bear directly and indirectly on the day-to-day practices of local governance (i.e. the allocation of public goods and services). The objective is an ethnographically rich comparative analysis of local power structures, expectations and significations in relation to oil production in Niger and Chad.


3. Resistance

Experience from other petro-states has shown that oil production can trigger resistance and (military) rebellion organized along both local and global structures. This is true for Niger and Chad as well. One focus of the research project will therefore concentrate on conflict and forms of resistance and rebellion against the state and multinational or national oil companies respectively, caused or aggravated by oil production.


4. Emerging oil zone working relations and cultures

Beginning with the construction phase of oil wells, pipelines and refineries as well as supportive infrastructures like airports, water supply, schools, hospitals or tree nurseries etc., new possibilities of employment are not only created, but they generate expectations and hopes, attract migrant workers and service providers and thus lead to the formation of communities in newly devised social structures. This part of the research project will look at the socio-cultural background of workers and migrants, their expectations and perceptions in relation to their future in the oil zone and their ways of handling relations and conflicts with each other and with their employers. The project will also analyze how social institutions like family, inheritance, age groups, gender, education and marriage change, particularly with the inflow of oil-money.


5. Transformations of rural livelihoods

Oil production, transport, and refining do not happen in deserted spaces, but affect various groups of people living in these areas (nomadic herders, farmers), whose ecological, economical and social environment changes with drilling of oil wells and the construction of oil production plants. People in rural zones are typically exposed to phenomena like land grabbing, conflicts over compensation payments, environmental pollution, rising prices, the arrival of new groups of actors (wage workers, traders), or new market possibilities. This sub-theme takes a look at the rural situation, the changes in the population’s social and political environment and the resulting competition for power and regional influence.


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