Amy Penfield

This paper explores how the Sanema of Venezuelan Amazonia experience the petroleum economy through their everyday handling of large quantities of highly subsidised petrol (gasoline), which has become a remarkably ubiquitous substance in social and political life. The paper critiques the theory of the so-called ‘resource curse’ by exploring local-level experiences with petrol, and in particular its role in the extraction of another important resource: gold. The model of the person presented in the resource curse literature¾and the self-serving individual at its core¾has been useful for making sense of the failures of petro-states in their strategies of economic growth and development. For the Sanema, however, such models are not consonant with daily experiences of extractive industries and petro-state objectives because both petrol and gold actually facilitate community well-being rather than merely individual self-interest. Drawing on Coronil’s (1997) work on the moral ambiguities of oil in Venezuela, I explore how encounters with the materialities of energy can shed light on how resources shape local imaginaries of citizenship and morality, but also opportunity and intimate expressions of compassion.