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Hannah Appel

Assistant Professor

Contact Information

Email    happel@anthro.ucla.edu
Office  318C Haines
Phone  310-267-4253
I am an economic anthropologist interested in the daily life of capitalism, the private sector in Africa, and the re-emergent dialogue between economics and anthropology.

My research and teaching interests are guided by the economic imagination.

How can we expand the field of economic possibility in an interconnected, power-laden world? I am also fundamentally committed to ethnographic research as a vibrant method for asking new questions and formulating new answers about the world in which we live. My current book project, Futures: Oil and the Licit Life of Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea, explores the U.S. based oil and gas industry’s efforts to disentangle the production of profit from the frictions of place; to manage risk, liability, and responsibility through a work-intensive project I call modularity—the mobile and licit infrastructures, labor forces, and imaginaries required to animate spectacular accumulation off Equatorial Guinea’s shores. The Futures project dwells on questions of infrastructure, the contract and the corporate form, and the ethnographic life of Equatorial Guinea’s national economy. 

I’m currently developing a second ethnographic project—Pan African Capital: Finance, Banking, and Economic Self-Fashioning—to continue my inquiry into the licit life of capitalism in Africa’s private sector, and the displacement of how and from where we think about global capitalism. Pan African Capital is a multi-sited project based on ethnographic work with transnational, African-owned banks and financial institutions on the continent.

Finally, I also work extensively with ongoing Occupy Wall Street projects including Strike Debt and the Debt Collective. These projects work to reimagine finance, capitalism, and economic possibilities for our time, and they demand that the tools of critical theory and the anthropology of finance be tested and sharpened in dynamic public praxis.



Ph.D. Anthropology, Stanford University (2011)

Selected Publications

"There is power in a debtors' union"

"Race Makes Markets: Subcontracting in the Transnational Oil Industry

"The Power of Debt: Identity and Collective Action in the Age of Finance

The Promise of InfrastructureDuke University Press. 2018.

"Toward an Ethnography of the National Economy

"The idea life of money and poststructural realism" Comment on Dodd, Nigel. 2014. The social life of money. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. In Journal of Ethnographic Theory Vol. 5, No. 2 (2015)

"On Simultaneity" (Cultural Anthropology, Theorizing the Contemporary)

Subterranean Estates: Lifeworlds of Oil and GasEditor, with Michael Watts and Arthur Mason. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Occupy Wall Street and the Economic Imagination (Cultural Anthropology)

Offshore Work: Oil, Modularity, and the how of capitalism in Equatorial Guinea (American Ethnologist)

Walls and White Elephants: oil extraction, responsibility, and infrastructural violence in Equatorial Guinea (Ethnography)

Finance is Just Another Word for Other People’s Debts: an interview with David Graeber (Radical History Review)

"Finance, Figuration, and the Alternative Banking Group of Occupy Wall Street" (Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society)



Talking about Strike Debt and the Debt Collective on Tavis Smiley (Sep. 26, 2014) 

Cloudy with a Chance of Radicalism: How Broken Chain of Title Can Turn the Tables on Banks (Feb. 26, 2014)

Can a Small California City Take on Wall Street—And Survive? (Sep. 29, 2013)

"The Potential of Debtors' Unions" ROAR Magazine 


The anthropology of capitalism; U.S. oil and gas firms; the private sector in Africa; the economic imagination