Utopias of oil: private equity and entrepreneurial ambition in the U.S. oil and gas industry

MM High*

*Corresponding author for this work

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At a time of a "private equity oil rush," this essay explores how oil industry entrepreneurs with ambitions of setting up their own oil-production companies are encouraged to "dream big"- yet are ultimately disciplined and let down- by private equity finance in the state of Colorado in the United States. Motivated by a desire to "do oil differently," these start-ups articulate utopian visions that draw on inequalities in extractive economies to promote an ethos of care and inclusion. I argue that while economic imaginations are commonly seen to offer alternatives to and critiques of capitalism, it is important also to attend to articulations of capitalist utopia. As private equity has come to form a secreted infrastructure that underlies much of the world's financial system and encourages entrepreneurial optimism and euphoria, I explore how the contemporary life of capitalism stimulates attitudes to wealth creation that remain markedly conventional and unadventurous.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)738-763
Number of pages26
JournalCultural Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


  • Energy
  • Oil
  • Finance
  • Utopia
  • Capitalist visions
  • United States


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