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Antinomies of community: some thoughts on geography, resources and empire

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Community is a fundamental modality for the conduct of modern politics. This paper explores the antinomies of community in an oil nation: Nigeria. Oil states stand in relation to a particular sort of capitalism (what I call petro-capitalism) in which a key resource (petroleum) and a logic of extraction figure centrally in the making and breaking of community. I pose the following questions: how are communities imagined (or not), territorialized (or not), identified (or not) and ruled (or not) at a multiplicity of scales and in relation to a particular natural resource, namely oil? Each community is imagined, so to say, through and with oil – the communities are ‘naturalized’ in relation to the effects, social, environmental, political, of oil exploration and production – but produces forms of rule and identity that are often fragmented, unruly and violent. The communities I address are, in a sense, all oil-producing communities but of rather different qualities: namely, the chieftainship as a local form of customary community rule at the level of the village; the ethnic or indigenous community at the level of the region; and the nation, or more properly the nation-state known as Nigeria. And standing at the heart of each community is a fundamental contradiction. Nigerian petro-capitalism operates through a particular sort of ‘oil complex’ (a configuration of firm, state and community) that generates or refigures differing sorts of community, what I shall refer to as governable spaces, in which differing sorts of identities, forms of rule and territory come into play. These sorts of community emerge from oil extraction, but the dynamics of petro-capitalism and the oil complex contribute to, and are constitutive of, a deep crisis of secular nationalist development. Imperial oil and its concessionary political economy can be read as a sort of enclosure or dispossession and it is out of this development crisis in Nigeria that particular senses of community are being constituted – with and through oil.

Keywords: Nigeria rule; community; governable space; identity nation; oil

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2004-06-01

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