Making concessions: power and ecstasis in the Congolese rainforest

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.

Departmental Seminar Michaelmas Term 2017

Fridays, 3.30pm, Lecture Theatre, 64 Banbury Road

Convened by Morgan Clarke and Chris Morton.