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Dr Gisa Weszkalnys

Gisa Weszkalnys

Gisa Weszkalnys specializes in the ethnographic study of natural resources, specifically oil in Africa. In the past, she has carried out intensive research on the politics of urban planning, resulting in the monograph Berlin, Alexanderplatz: Transforming Place in a Unified Germany (Berghahn, 2010) and in an edited volume Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World (ed. with Simone Abram, Berghahn 2013). She also worked on interdisciplinary research policy and practice in Germany, the UK, and the US.

For the past decade, Gisa has pursued an analysis of future making as a significant material and affective endeavour critical to contemporary capitalism. Gisa’s research has focused on the speculative logics at play in the context of offshore oil exploration in São Tomé and Príncipe, a former Portuguese colony in the African Atlantic. It has used ethnographic methods and anthropological theory to re-think problems that have been the mainstay of economists and political scientists. Her work critically examines the contemporary notion of African countries as abundant but perilous and corrupt resource providers. This notion indicates a distinctive phase in the continent’s long-standing representation as an exploitable resource environment, and has spawned a particular kind of anticipatory politics, including World Bank governance programmes and NGO campaigns. Building on long-term and ongoing fieldwork, Gisa has shown how oil is conjured as a matter of ambiguous potentiality, at once generative and destructive. Oil emerges as a source of future wealth and a harbinger of a so-called ‘resource curse’, underpinned by colonial and post-colonial hopes of socio-economic change. However, instead of asserting capital’s inexorable progress, her fine-grained analysis of the technical, legal, and commercial instruments underpinning exploration projects reveals the disruptions and retardations inherent to the capitalist project.

Building on this research, Gisa has developed an innovative theoretical framework for the study of natural resources that links issues at the forefront of economic anthropology and anthropological studies of Africa, including political sovereignty, economic subjectivity, and uncertainty, with broader social theoretical debates on temporality and materiality. In April 2012, she co-convened with Tanya Richardson (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada) a successful international workshop Engaging Resources: New Anthropological Perspectives on Natural Resource Environments funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Gisa has been a Leverhulme Research Fellow (2012/13), a Visiting Researcher at the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oxford University (2012-14), a Visiting Fellow at the Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin (2015), and a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University, New York (2016). Gisa has also carried out consultancy research in the field of natural resources and development working, for example, with UNDP in São Tomé and Príncipe, the Open Society Institute in Angola, and private sector companies.with UNDP in São Tomé and Príncipe and with the Open Society Institute in Angola.

Selected Publications

2017. Preventing the Resource Curse: Ethnographic Notes on an Economic Experiment. In Governance in the Extractive Industries: Power, Cultural Politics, and Regulation, ed. by L. Leonard and S.N. Grovogui. London and New York: Routledge. (This is an updated version of the paper published in Economy and Society in 2011.)

2016. Infrastructure as Gesture. In Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Routledge Companion, ed. by P. Harvey, C. Bruun Jensen, A. Morita. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 284-295.

2016. A Doubtful Hope: Resource Affect in a Future Oil Economy. JRAI 22(S1): 117-136. 

2015. Geology, Potentiality, Speculation: On the Indeterminacy of “First Oil”, Cultural Anthropology, 30(4): 611-639.

2014. Resource Materialities: New Anthropological Perspectives on Natural Resource Environments (special issue ed. with T. Richardson), Anthropological Quarterly 87(1) [includes Resource Materialities—An Introduction (with T. Richardson), pp.5-30]. 

2014. Anticipating Oil: The Temporal Politics of a Disaster Yet To Come. The Sociological Review 62: S1: 211-235 (also published as chapter of the Sociological Review Monograph, Disasters and Politics: Materials, Preparedness, Governance, ed. by M. Tironi, I. Rodríguez-Giralt, M. Guggenheim. Wiley-Blackwell.)

2013. Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World (ed. with S. Abram), Berghahn Books: Oxford and New York. [Includes: “Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World. An Introduction” (with S. Abram)]

2013. Multiple Environments: Accountability, Integration, Ontology (with Andrew Barry), in A. Barry and G. Born (eds), Interdisciplinarity: Reconfigurations of the Social and Natural Sciences, pp.178-208. Routledge: London and New York.

2013. Oil’s Magic: Materiality and Contestation, in S. Strauss, S. Rupp and T. Love (eds), Cultures of Energy: Anthropological Perspectives on Powering the Planet, pp.267-283. Left Coast Press: Walnut Creek, CA.

2011. Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World (Theme Issue) (ed. with S. Abram), Focaal 61. [includes introduction “Anthropologies of Planning: Temporality, Imagination, and Ethnography” (with S. Abram), pp.3-18]. 

2011. Cursed Resources, or Articulations of Economic Theory in the Gulf of Guinea, Economy and Society 40(3): 345-372.

2010. Berlin, Alexanderplatz: Transforming Place in a Unified Germany, Berghahn Books: Oxford and New York.

2010. A Citizenly Engagement with Place, in A. Färber (ed.) Stoffwechsel Berlin. Urbane Präsenzen und Repräsentationen, Berliner Blätter (Berlin: Panama Verlag), Vol. 53: 112-127.

2010. Re-conceiving the resource curse and the role of anthropology, Suomen Antropologi (Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Association) 35(1): 87-90.

2009. The Curse of Oil in the Gulf of Guinea: A view from São Tomé and Príncipe (Review Article), African Affairs 108(433): 679-689.

2009. Príncipe Eclipsed: Commemorating the confirmation of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, Anthropology Today 25(5): 8-12.

2008. Logics of Interdisciplinarity (with A. Barry and G. Born), Economy and Society 37(1): 20-49.

2008. A Robust Square: youth work, planning and the making of public space in contemporary Berlin, City and Society, 20(2): 251-274.

2008. Hope and Oil: expectations in São Tomé e Príncipe, Review of African Political Economy, 35(3): 473-482.

2007. The Disintegration of a Socialist Exemplar: discourses on urban disorder in Alexanderplatz, Berlin, Space and Culture 10(2): 207-230. on urban disorder in Alexanderplatz, Berlin”, Space and Culture 10(2): 207-230.



Berlin, Alexanderplatz –
winter 2001

Seminar on local content in the oil industry

Seminar on “Local Content” in
the oil industry, São Tomé and Príncipe, April 2007

Petrol Vending Shop

Petrol vending shop in São
Tomé and Príncipe