‘We work for the Devil’: oil extraction, kinship and the fantasy of time on the offshore frontier

Pauline Destree*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the offshore oil industry of Takoradi, Ghana, white expatriate workers describe oil extraction as both ‘the work of the Devil’ and a ‘labour of love’. While companies strive to produce the offshore as a timeless and spaceless fantasy of ‘frictionless profit’, workers emphasize oil work as a sacrificial economy where risk, loss and distance are traded in the pursuit of an ideal of family life. In this article, I argue that the operational structures and labour regime of the offshore (characterized by a rotation pattern, continuous production, distant locations, a segregated workforce, and mobile installations) create not only a model of capital accumulation, but a mode of being and making kin. I describe oil workers’ aspirations to a ‘good family life’ and parental care, pitting time against distance, and the interpersonal ruins that remain when they fray. In probing how oil workers make petro-capitalism affectively workable, by exploring the entangled processes of extractive and reproductive labour, this article contributes to recent scholarship on the role of kinship in sustaining global capitalism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24–43
Number of pages20
JournalCritique of Anthropology
Issue number1
Early online date23 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023


  • Affective labour
  • Time
  • Capitalism
  • Extraction
  • Kinship
  • Offshore
  • Oil


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