In Timor-Leste, visions of radical societal transformation and future
wealth derived from gold and oil are accompanied by concerns that outsiders
might be conspiring to rob the country of its riches, as well as conjuring up dystopian
scenarios of sinister plots and future mayhem. Examining national narratives
and local accounts, this article argues that visions of prosperity and visions of conspiracy
are two sides of the same coin; both are embedded in an understanding
that power works in invisible ways. In discussing these visions in relation to the
literature on “conspiracy theories” and “cargo cults” (terms that have recently been
imported to the study of Timor-Leste), it explores the critical potential of these
visions. Whereas the labels “conspiracy theory” and “cargo cult” create distinctions
between the “rational” perspective of the West and the “irrationality” of non-Western others, as practices these visions end up collapsing such distinctions by
appropriating the power of the outside.
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