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Fall Speaker Series 2022 – Monday, Sept. 19, 2022 – The Petro-State Masquerade: Oil and Sovereignty in Trinidad and Tobago
September 19, 2022 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Anthropology • History • Science, Technology, and Society
Department of Anthropology
University of Chicago
Monday, Sept. 19
*Individuals who do not have an MIT ID must RSVP by Friday, Sept. 16, 12pm to be registered for campus access via Tim Tickets.
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The Petro-State Masquerade: Oil and Sovereignty in Trinidad and Tobago
The “Petro-State Masquerade” considers how postcolonial political futures in the Caribbean nation state of Trinidad and Tobago came to be staked to the market futures of oil, natural gas, and their petrochemical derivatives. Drawing on archival and ethnographic research, this paper theorizes how the tenuous relationship between oil and political power-enshrined in the hyphenated form of the petro-state is represented by postcolonial state officials as a Carnivalesque ”masquerade of permanence” through the perpetual expansion of fossil fuel ventures. At the same time, low oil and gas prices, diminishing reserves, and renewable energy innovations threaten the viability of the Trinbagonian energy sector.
In turn, this paper examines the turn to offshore exploration in the deep-water sector beginning in 1998. Characterized by protracted production cycles, deep-water ventures feature prohibitive costs and a comparatively low probability of success. After several deep-water ventures failed to yield substantive commercial quantities of oil or gas, the unfulfilled potential of a lucrative offshore geology is invoked to mitigate uncertainty and secure the long-term viability of the Trinbagonian energy sector. In their masquerade, state officials depict fossil fuels as inexhaustible resources waiting to be unearthed by multinational capital and novel extractive technologies.