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Petrobarter: Oil, Inequality, and the Political Imagination in and after the Cold War

Douglas Rogers
Current Anthropology
Vol. 55, No. 2 (April 2014), pp. 131-153
DOI: 10.1086/675498
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/675498
Page Count: 23
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Petrobarter
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Abstract

Petrobarter—the exchange of oil for goods and services without reference to monetary currency—has been a widespread and underappreciated practice among corporations, states, and state agencies over the past half century. Analyzing this practice with reference to anthropological theories of barter adds to our understandings of two significant and intertwined concerns in contemporary social science: (1) the production and reproduction of inequality at various scales, from subnational regions to the international system as a whole, and (2) the generation and fate of mobilizing political imaginaries that challenge the abstracted, universalizing imaginaries so often associated with monetized exchange, especially in capitalist contexts. Barter exchanges featuring oil are, therefore, as analytically significant as the much more commonly studied transactions of oil and money. Ethnographic and historical case studies of petrobarter are drawn from the Perm region of the Russian Urals in the post-Soviet period and the global oil trade in the early Cold War. This view from the perspective of the socialist and postsocialist world, it is argued, provides an instructive counterpoint to the many existing studies of oil and money, both in and beyond anthropology, that are situated in the European-American colonial and postcolonial periphery.

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