Minor analytics of oil, life, and well-being in Esmeraldas, Ecuador

Authors: Gabriela Valdivia*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Urban Geography, Environment, Human Rights
Keywords: Minor theory, feminist political economy, toxic landscapes, environmental justice, capabilities
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Cabinet Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Measured according to potential reserves, barrels of crude oil produced and moved, molecular weight and composition, and the uneven distribution of surplus, narratives about how oil flows tend to take the form of a self-referencing ‘hydrocarbon commodity chain,’ one that risks missing out on how oil capital morphs and moves through exchanges with uneven racial development intersecting the chain. Thinking with the porous exchanges between urban environments, bodies, and oil infrastructure in the petro-city of Esmeraldas, a pivotal node in Ecuador’s oil complex, this paper seeks to decenter the analytical attention, away from fluidity and towards the places through which oil flows, to reflect on the co-dependence between capabilities, responsibility, obligations and oil capital in sites of intense historical inequalities. The paper builds on the scholarship on affective economies and critical oil geographies to follow uncanny moments of oil and life encounters in Esmeraldas, where well-being is often subaltern to the comings and goings of the national oil complex. Keeping the flow of oil in the background of analysis, it retells oil stories as stories about self-determination and autonomy in oil-saturated economies to show how Esmeraldeño daily struggles are transversal to the oil chain, and how, in turn, life is incorporated, changed, and devalued in the process. Focusing on these minor narratives of oil flow in sites like Esmeraldas can to shift the spatial and temporal scales of knowledge production about oil’s circulation and enriches the possibility for creative interventions, intellectual and beyond.

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