Hannah Appel


Hannah Appel

Associate Professor

Office: 318C Haines

Email: happel@anthro.ucla.edu

Phone: 310-267-4253

Curriculum Vitae

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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 first book, The Licit Life of Capitalism, is both an account of a specific capitalist project—U.S. oil companies working off the shores of Equatorial Guinea—and a theorization of more general forms and processes that facilitate diverse capitalist projects around the world. The corporate form and the contract, “the offshore” and economic theory are the assemblages of liberalism and race, expertise and gender, technology and domesticity that enable the licit life of capitalism—practices that are legally sanctioned, widely replicated, and ordinary, at the same time as they are messy, contested, and, arguably, indefensible. People and places differentially valued by gender, race, and colonial histories are the terrain on which the rules of capitalist economy are built, not exceptions to its universality.

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.


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


The Licit Life of Capitalism. Duke University Press, 2019

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


Ph.D. Anthropology, Stanford University (2011)