Visions of prosperity and conspiracy in Timor-Leste

in Focaal

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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Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology