The project uses data set of household interviews collected in 2014 for a National Science Foundation (NSF) research project titled “The Impact of Oil Extraction, Regulatory Policy, and Environmental Practice on Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian Communities” (2013-2016).

Between January and May 2014, a field team of five Esmeraldas residents used social science methods, including surveys that mixed quantitative and qualitative approaches, to collect data on life-with-oil. They conducted 158 household semi-structured interviews on livelihood provision, quality of life, health, and opportunities for socioeconomic improvement. The team also conducted a monthly survey on household economics and reciprocity for a subset of 40 households, for four months, to better understand how people make ends meet in the city. All interviews were conducted at the home of respondents, audio recorded and geo-located, and entered into spreadsheets for statistical processing and geographic querying. Interviewers also photographed the public spaces of the neighborhoods sampled.

My goal is to develop a digital archive that:

(1) allows me to engage with and present the experience of life-with-oil as entangled with place and not necessarily contained by it, and

(2) can be used for comparative work on the experience of living with oil globally.

Why do such a project?

While social science analytics allow us to generate stable representations of the experience of oil as an outcome of distinct variables (e.g., household economic, environmental exposures), the audio recordings showed that respondents shared stories about the entanglements of oil with hope, acquiescence, decay, and political gains, stories of concealed invisibility and resistance that could not be captured by our survey abstractions.

These urban stories “flipped our script” of the city. Rather than portraying the city as an event of oil-affliction, these stories pointed to the city as an entanglement of lively experiences. In the recorded interviews, team members sort out through the stories to ‘mine’ them for the right variables to place within the constructed categories of the interview instruments (e.g., demographic history, household economic activity, use and access to public infrastructure). The stories were disentangled to fit into the paradigm; they could not be archived and mobilized in their entirety using the existing methodological parameters and, thus, their power as windows to worlds of difference remained bracketed as “excess data” that requires a different archival analytic. These are representational and conceptual margins; moments of uncertainty, ambiguity, confusion, and acquiescence don’t have ‘room’ in spreadsheets and statistical analysis, but express emotional and temporal dimensions of life-with-oil. These stories are often treated as “fuzzy,” “anecdotal” or “excess detail” in scholarly narratives of oil politics because they scatter, rather than settle, relations of power.

To overcome the inability of translating the power of these stories into our database, the project develops a digital archive that bridges the limits of the social science partial portrayal of life-with-oil; an archive that holds both the data and the “excess,” so that they could be visualized together as distinct dimensions of the experience of life-with-oil. Our hope is to develop ways of bringing these “excessive data” into conversation with the rest of the project.