A Blessing and a Curse examines the lived experience of political change, moral uncertainty, and economic crisis amid Venezuela's controversial Bolivarian Revolution. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in an urban barrio over the course of a decade, Matt Wilde argues that everyday life in this period was intimately shaped by a critical contradiction: that in their efforts to capture a larger portion of oil money and distribute it more widely among the population, the governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro pursued policies that ultimately entrenched Venezuela in the very position of dependency they sought to overcome. Offering a new synthesis between anthropological work on energy, politics, and morality, the book explores how the use of oil money to fund the revolution's social programs and political reforms produced profound cultural anxieties about the contaminating effects of petroleum revenues in everyday settings. Tracing how these anxieties rippled out into community life, family networks, and local politics, Wilde shows how questions about how to live a good life came to be intimately shaped by Venezuela's contradictory relationship with oil. In doing so, he brings a vital perspective to contemporary debates about energy transitions by proposing a new way of thinking about the political and moral economies of natural resources in postcolonial settings.
About the author
Matt Wilde is an anthropologist and Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Leicester.
"Venezuela's ambitious project of redistributive social transformation inspired many, but did not go according to plan. This book tells us about the role of oil wealth and its undermining of other possible forms of prosperity; it also gives a vivid account of the aspirations of those who were trying to operationalise a fairer society, and how they put their 'barrio socialism' into practice."
—Deborah James, The London School of Economics and Political Science
"In A Blessing and a Curse, Wilde shows the value of sensitive long-term ethnography to our understanding of this most complex and troubled of places. Cutting through the standard polemics, his nuanced approach draws out the consequences of Venezuelans' relationship with oil for everyday life, moral economies, and kinship as much as for macro-level political economy. A remarkable achievement."
—Sian Lazar, University of Cambridge
"This is the book on Venezuela that we have been waiting for. Through the lives of the Hernández family and their neighbors, Matt Wilde paints an intimate portrait of the long arc of the Bolivarian Revolution as experienced from the urbanbarrios. It is an ethnographically sensitive, theoretically insightful account of the promises and failings of one of the twenty-first century's most consequential political movements. A highly readable and eminently teachable text."
—Robert Samet, Union College