Life in Oil: Surviving Disaster in the Petroleum Fields of Amazonia


ACLS Fellowship Program




This ethnographic book project explores oil’s ability to suffuse, transform, and destroy human life. It is set in the homeland of Amazonia’s indigenous Cofán people, who live in the epicenter of Ecuadorian petroleum extraction. In the 1960s, the corporation Texaco discovered crude in the heart of Cofán territory. Within a decade, Ecuador was an OPEC nation. The Cofán watched as their forests fell, their rivers ran black, and their bodies succumbed to new illnesses. Although their suffering at the hands of petroleum companies has made them famous, the Cofán have learned to survive in oil’s midst. The project, by adopting the culturally distinct and experientially intimate perspective of a people who have been overwhelmed by petroleum production, argues for a new understanding of oil as one of the world’s most powerful social, political, and material forces.