Life after Oil: The politics of labor in Bessora's petroleum

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Petroleum, a 2004 novel by Swiss-Gabonese writer Bessora, takes place almost entirely on the Ocean Liberator, a ship extracting oil off the coast of Gabon. I argue that the Ocean Liberator operates as what Marc Augé calls a non-place, a place that cannot be defined in terms of history, identity, or relations. Non-places, frequently under neither national nor international supervision, facilitate the creation of a precarious international labor force. I furthermore underline the relation among the non-place workplace, environmental degradation, and the choice of detective fiction. Petroleum is what I call a supermodern detective novel, which moves beyond local violence to deal with transnational networks of capitalist power and oppression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)406-422
Number of pages17
JournalCambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • detective fiction
  • eco-criticism
  • francophone
  • non-places

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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