Dr Gisa Weszkalnys

Dr Gisa Weszkalnys

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology

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Office Hours
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English, German, Portuguese
Key Expertise
Europe; US; lusophone Africa

About me

I am an economic anthropologist with an interest in how the future figures in human practice. My research pioneers an ethnographic analysis of future making as a political, material, and affective endeavour central to contemporary capitalism. I have carried out a number of significant research projects working both independently and in interdisciplinary teams. As an experienced field researcher, I use a qualitative and mixed-methods toolkit including ethnography, interviewing, life history analysis, extended case studies, institutional histories, and archival research. I have also worked as consultant researcher for a number of third sector and corporate organisations. I was a Leverhulme Research Fellow (2012-13), Visiting Researcher at the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oxford University (2012-14), Visiting Fellow at the Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin (2015), and Visiting Scholar at Columbia University, New York (2016).   

Focused on Europe and West Africa, my research has explored how future imaginations and associated ethical orientations towards likely and unlikely things to come play out in techno-governmental practices and the cultural and material worlds shaped by them. My first book, Berlin, Alexanderplatz: Transforming Place in a Unified Germany (2010), examines the rapid remake of Berlin through the lens of city planning, following the fall of state socialism. It shows how urban futures are conjured by planning agencies, independent experts, and citizen activists, and in the lived realities of its inhabitants. The focus is the controversy around Alexanderplatz, a public square and showcase of socialist urban infrastructure in East Berlin, including the agonistic relations of expertise, democratic participation, and civic belonging from which place can be reimagined. I expanded on the insights of this research in a productive collaboration with Simone Abram, resulting in the edited volume Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World (2013), which theorises how planning negotiates future material possibilities. 

I am now writing a second monograph with the working title A Doubtful Hope: Oil, Wealth, and Time in Atlantic Africa. Using long-term ethnographic as well as archival methods, I track the speculative logics at play in offshore hydrocarbon exploration in São Tomé and Príncipe, a former Portuguese colony in the Gulf of Guinea. I show how oil has been conjured as a matter of ambiguous potentiality, both generative and destructive. This is underpinned by hopes of socio-economic change resulting from contingent articulations of colonial and postcolonial development imaginaries in this former plantation economy. My work examines the new and deeply racialised politics of resource management that, over the last decade, has emerged in contexts of the global oil industry and its governance by state and transnational institutions. It is a politics that revolves not simply around the democratic and technical aspects of oil’s exploitation but increasingly the affective dissonances associated with it.   

I build on my interest in the multiple and occasionally inconsistent temporalities of hydrocarbon extraction in a new UKRI-funded project entitled Fraying ties? Networks, territory and transformation in the UK oil sector (with Gavin Bridge, Durham University; Nana de Graaff, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; and James Marriott, Platform). This interdisciplinary collaboration will assess the current transformation and reassembly of the UK oil and gas sector shaped by public concerns about peak oil and the climate crisis, changing forms of regulation and expertise around the energy transition, and changes in the practices of industry and global hydrocarbon markets. You can find some of our early reflections on the future of North Sea oil here.  

I am keen to attract PhD students who want to develop ethnographically and theoretically compelling projects on resource extraction and energy, the regulatory, financial, and affective aspects of capitalist economies, state planning and urban development, and (post)plantation economies in the Global North and South. Past and present PhD students have examined community expectations as well as global networks of market making in extractive contexts (Kari Dahlgren, Doris Okenwa, Giselle Figueroa de la Ossa); gendered ethics of labour, work, and unemployment (Connor Watt, Eman Shehata); state policy and civil society mobilisation around climate crisis and energy transitions (Gabriela Cabaña Alvear, Catherine Whittle); and water infrastructures and their associated forms of hydrosociality (Marco del Gallo di Roccagiovine). If you are interested in pursuing research supervised by me, please, get in touch, sending a CV and a brief outline initially.   


Expertise Details

Anthropology of the economy; corporations; expertise; resource extraction; state (urban) planning; temporality; materiality; and affect; Europe; US; lusophone Africa

Selected publications

2017Preventing 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.

2016A Doubtful Hope: Resource Affect in a Future Oil EconomyJRAI 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 (with Tanya Richardson, pp.5-30].Includes introduction: “Resource Materialities” (with Tanya Richardson).

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 Manuel Tironi, Israel Rodríguez-Giralt, Michael Guggenheim. Wiley-Blackwell.)

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

2013. Multiple Environments: Accountability, Integration, Ontology (with Andrew Barry), in Andrew Barry and Georgina 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 Sarah Strauss, Stephanie Rupp and Thomas 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 Simone Abram), Focaal 61. [includes introduction “Anthropologies of Planning: Temporality, Imagination, and Ethnography” (with Simone 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 Andrew Barry and Georgina 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.

My research

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