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Speculative Undergrounds: Oil’s Absent Presence, Neo-imperial Nationalisms, and Earth Politics in Turkey

By Zeynep Oguz

Cite As:
Oguz, Zeynep. 2023. “Speculative Undergrounds: Oil’s Absent Presence, Neo-imperial Nationalisms, and Earth Politics in Turkey.” Cultural Anthropology 38, no. 3: 411–437.


The fraught tectonic history of Anatolia has given oil in Turkey an absent presence. In this article, I examine how oil’s absent presence produces a series of speculations in Turkish public life regarding oil’s alleged abundance and its obstructed production. In particular, I trace widespread speculations that claim that the Treaty of Lausanne, which founded Turkey in 1923, will expire on its centennial anniversary in July 2023. I argue that speculations about the expiration of Lausanne harken back to both anxieties around territorial partition and neo-imperial desires of expansion in contemporary Turkey. Such speculations are further utilized by the AKP government to reinterpret Turkey’s history and to legitimize expansionist and irredentist politics in the present. In this context the ground—what’s under it and who exerts political claims over it—becomes a productive zone in which multiple ethno-nationalist and imperialist notions of territorial belonging, loss, and desire are played out. I conclude that by recalibrating anthropological analyses around the generative powers of the geological, we can better understand how the indeterminacy of the underground entwines with the political legacies of post-imperial collapse and nation-state formation that emerged in the aftermath of World War I.


resources; geology; underground; speculation; territorial politics; geopolitics; Turkey; politics of history; politics of nature


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