Fuel of fear and force: gasoline's energetic power and its entanglement in composite ethics

Amy Penfield*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
114 Downloads (Pure)


Energy is far more than a resource exploited by states and corporations. Yet, at the level of consumption it is generally thought to be a difficult phenomenon to examine because it is so familiar that we barely notice its role in our lives, or at the very least, its production becomes obscured by this pragmatic daily engagement (see Smith this volume). The other side to the story - the one in which energy is a provision distributed to and experienced by people in intimate and unanticipated ways - is distinctly perceptible in locales like the Amazon rainforest where conventional energy provisions are absent. This article explores how everyday encounters with gasoline offer insights into ethical judgements among the Sanema of Venezuelan Amazonia. The fuel is so pervasive that it is increasingly drawn into gold mining activities, dilemmas of kinship, the animist world of vengeful spirit masters, and ethically-infused rumours of disaster. Being a volatile substance – simultaneously vaporous, explosive, narcotic and caustic – gasoline is also a vital entity that holds a particularly intriguing place in the Sanema’s understanding of personhood and ethics. Indeed, its mysterious and unsettling qualities cause it to become entangled within a composite form of ethics that defines Sanema social worlds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-159
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue numberS1
Early online date12 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2019


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