Offshore work: Oil, modularity, and the how of capitalism in Equatorial Guinea



Oil scholarship often focuses on oil as money, as if the industry were a mere revenue-producing machine—a black box with predictable effects. Drawing on fieldwork in Equatorial Guinea, I take the industry as my object of analysis: infrastructures, labor regimes, forms of expertise and fantasy. Starting from a visit to an offshore rig, I explore the idea of “modularity”—mobile personnel, technologies, and legal structures that enable offshore work in Equatorial Guinea to function “just like” offshore work elsewhere. Anthropologists often characterize as naive the simplifications of modular processes, the evacuation of specificity they entail. Yet for the industry in Equatorial Guinea, this evacuation of specificity was neither mistake nor flaw. Tracing the making of modularity shows how corporations can appear removed from local entanglements and also helps to clarify the “how” of capitalism—the work required to frame heterogeneity and contingency into the profit and power found in many global capitalist projects.