Making Concessions: Power and Ecstasis in the Congolese rainforest

Danford Room 2nd floor Arts Building (R16 on the campus map)
Wednesday 7 February 2018 (16:30-18:30)

Speaker: Thomas Hendriks, University of Oxford 

Zooming in on a multinational timber company operating in the north of the Congolese rainforest after the 2008 financial crisis, this paper evokes the rowdy intimacies of power at work in industrial logging activities. On the basis of long-term fieldwork with its Congolese workers and European expat managers – as well as with the many traders, farmers, smugglers and barkeepers the concession attracted – I show how and why logging gives rise to profoundly ecstatic dynamics that often remain under-theorized. Although the logging company presented its activities as rational exercises in planning, mapping and auditing, it was confronted with stubborn realities on which it barely had any control. Masculine bravura, logger machismo and delusions of power thereby coexisted with feelings of impotence, choleric outbursts and nervous compensations. Taking seriously the ecstatic aspects of rainforest logging, I argue that theoretical analyses of capitalism that exclusively focus on its assumedly all-encompassing power without foregrounding its failures and frustrations, remain complicit to the powerful images capitalist companies present of themselves. Queering the phallic pretensions of multinational corporations, this paper calls for thinking capitalism otherwise: beyond its supposedly totalizing reach and mastery and through the uncontrollable and vulnerable productivity of ecstasis.

Thomas Hendriks obtained his PhD in anthropology at the University of Leuven (Belgium) with a dissertation on labour, race and memory in an industrial logging concession in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After obtaining his PhD, he carried out a postdoctoral research project on queer masculinities and dissident desires in urban Congo. And, since 2016, as Evans Pritchard Fellow in African Anthropology, he works as Departmental Lecturer at the University of Oxford. His work occurs at the crossroads of African anthropology, gender studies and queer theory and is published in journals such as American Ethnologist, Africa, Sexualities, Journal of African Cultural Studies, Visual Anthropology and Research in African Literatures. He is currently working on a book about the everyday life of loggers in the Congolese rainforest. 

Part of the Africa Talks Seminar Series Spring 2018.

Talks are held in the Danford Room, 2nd floor, Arts Building (R16 on the campus map). 

All welcome. 

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