Michael Watts

Michael Watts

Professor Emeritus
ph.d. University of Michigan, 1979
Political economy and political ecology; energy and the environment; Africa; famine; risk and vulnerability; violence and dispossession

555 McCone Hall

Professor Watts’ recent work: Curse of the Black Gold:

Curse of the Black Gold

Curse of the Black Gold on Amazon.com

Professor Watts’ most recent research: Economies of Violence: Petroleum, Politics and Community Conflict in the Niger Delta, Nigeria

Website: Niger Delta: Economies of Violence
Links to Working Papers

Professor Watts has developed a website on writing and crafting a dissertation prospectus.
Click for my essay entitled The Holy Grail: In Pursuit of the Dissertation Proposal
Click for resources, including the nuts and bolts of preparing and writing a research proposal, examples of proposals and their revision by authors, and funding resources.

Political economy, political ecology, Africa, South Asia, development, peasant societies, social and cultural theory, U.S. agriculture, Islam and social movements, the energy transition, resource conflicts, the oil industry.

At the centre of my research and teaching interests is a longstanding engagement with the political economy of development and in particular energy and agro-food sectors in Africa. My own training at University College, London and at the University of Michigan was firmly grounded in Anthropology, Development theory, Ecology and Sociology, initially with a focus on the understanding the vulnerability of peasant communities in semi-arid Africa and the dynamics of subsistence and famine crises. My doctoral research was based on long-term field research in northern Nigeria and generated a lifelong concern with questions of food security, rural differentiation and the agrarian question. While at Berkeley I have tried to deepen my understanding of the intersections between political economy, culture and forms of power.   Over the last decade I have devoted most of my time to the oil and gas sector and to the impact of oil in the Gulf of Guinea, especially in the Niger delta region of Nigeria.

During the 1980s and 1990s I extended my interests in Africa with fieldwork in Senegambia on gender and household dynamics and irrigation politics. I continue to work in Nigeria on Islam, and the political economy and political ecology of oil. Concurrently, I have published on the global agro-food system including in California and the US most notably rice in California, and the poultry industry Since 2011 I have been working closely with New York photographer Ed Kashi and produced a book on the impact of oil in Nigeria and the Niger delta entitled The Curse of the Black Gold. With colleagues Iain Boal and Cal Winslow, I have been working on the commune and back to the land movements in northern California.

For ten years I served as the Director of a research institute, the Institute of International Studies (1994-2004), which promotes cross-area and cross-disciplinary research and training on transnational and global issues. I established with Nancy Peluso the Berkeley Working Group on Environmental Politics, the major centre for cross-disciplinary political ecological research on the Berkeley campus. In addition I have served as the director of the Africa Studies Center, of the Rotary Peace Fellows program, and co-direct our undergraduate Development Studies Program with Professor Gillian Hart.

I have had occasion to work with various development organizations and philanthropic institutions. I have worked for UNDP, the Ford Foundation, OXFAM, and a number of small NGOs in Africa (most recently Environmental Rights Action and Our Niger Delta in Nigeria).  I serve on the Board of a number of non-profits including the Pacific Institute in Oakland and have given expert testimony in major legal cases concerning of human and environmental rights in Nigeria, and spoken to the US Congress and other policy groups in Washington DC. I have served as Chair of the Trustees of the Social Science Research Council since 2007.

Selected publications


2015. Oil Talk: The Secret Lives of the Oil and Gas Industry. Ithaca. Cornell University Press, edited with Arthur Mason and Hannah Appel.

Forthcoming. Genealogies of Environmental Thought: Works of Clarence Glacken.  Edited by Ravi Rajan, Adam, Romero and Michael Watts. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

1983/2015. Silent Violence:  Food, Famine and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria. Second Edition with a New Introduction, University of Georgia Press.

2010. West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California. PM Press: Oakland.  Iain Boal, Cal Winslow, Janferie Stone and Michael Watts (eds).

2008. The Curse of the Black Gold. With Ed Kashi (photographer).  New York: Powerhouse Press.

2005. Afflicted Powers (RETORT: I.Boal. T.J.Clark and J. Matthews). London: Verso.2004. Liberation Ecologies: Environment, Development, Social Movements. Edited with Richard Peet. London: Routledge [A Second edition expanded by 30% with eight new chapters and rewritten Introductions].
2001. Violent Environments. Edited with Nancy Peluso. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

2000. The Hettner Lectures: Geographies of Violence. Heidelberg: University of Heidelberg.

2000/05/09. Dictionary of Human Geography. Edited with Ron Johnston, Gerry Pratt and Derek Gregory. Oxford: Blackwell (expanded Third edition published 2009).

1998/2007. Encyclopaedia of Sub-Saharan Africa. Co-Editor. New York: Simon and Schuster. (4 volumes) [Awarded the African Studies Association Conover-Porter Prize for Reference Books, 2000]. An enlarged five volume second edition appeared in 2007.

1997. Globalizing Food: Agrarian Questions and Global Restructuring. Edited with David Goodman. London: Routledge.

1996/2004. Liberation Ecologies: Environment, Development, Social Movements. Edited with Richard Peet. LondonRoutledge. Second edition with 8 new chapters and new introduction).

1995. Geographies of Global Change: Remapping the World in the Late Twentieth Century. Edited with P. Taylor and R.J. Johnston. Oxford:Basil Blackwell. [Second Edition in 1998; the Third Edition in 2002 had eight new chapters, a new introduction and conclusion, and section essays by the editors].

1994. Living Under Contract: Contract Farming and Agrarian Transformation in Africa. Edited book with Dr. Peter Little. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

1992. Reworking Modernity: Capitalisms and Symbolic Discontent. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. (with Allan Pred).

1987. State, Oil and Agriculture in Nigeria. Edited with an Introduction by Michael Watts, University of California, Berkeley: Institute of International Studies Press.

1983. Silent Violence: Food, Famine and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria. Berkeley: University of California Press. [runner-up for Herskovitz Prize, 1984]

Journals and Invited Papers:

Forthcoming. Commentary,  a response to Douglas Rogers, Petro-barter, Current Anthropology, in press.

Forthcoming. Spaces of Insurgency:  Power, Place and Spectacle in Nigeria, in Heather Merrill and Lisa Hoffman (eds)., Geographies of Power: re-cognizing the present moment of danger., Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Forthcoming. Petro-Violence, in Imre Szeman and Jennifer Wenzel (eds), Fueling Culture: Energy, History, Politics. New York: Fordham University Press.

Forthcoming. Building Resilience, Making Secure: Biopolitical Security, Catastrophism and the Food-Climate Question, in Nancy Chen and Lesley Sharp (eds)., Biosecurity.  Santa Fe: School of American Research, in press.

Forthcoming. Banal Globalization, in A. Tickell and N. Thrift (eds)., Globalization in Practice: An A-Z Guide, London:  Oxford  University Press,

Forthcoming. Oil Frontiers, in Daniel Worden an Ross, Barrett (eds)., Oil Culture.   Minneapolis, University of   Minnesota Press, in press.

Forthcoming. Thinking the African Food Crisis: The Sahel Forty Years On, in R. Herring (ed)., Handbook on Food, Politics and Society. New York: Oxford University Press.

2014. Resource Violence, with Nancy Peluso in Carl Death (editor), Critical Environmental Politics, London: Routledge, pp.184-197.

2013. Insurgent Geographies (in German).  Geographishs Rundschau, 9, pp.44-52.

2013. A tale of Two Insurgencies, in Alex Houen (ed)., States of War in the ‘War on Terror’, Cambridge: Polity   Press, pp.103-129.

2013. Oil Talk, Development and Change, Vol. 44/4, pp.1013-1026.

2013. Imperiales Ol und vergessene Verbrechen: Grenzgebiete de Enteignung in Niger-Delta (Imperial Oil and Forgotten Crimes:   Frontiers of Dispossession in the Niger Delta, Nigeria). PROKLA, 43/1, pp61-71.

2013. Toward a Political Ecology of Environmental Security, in Rita Floyd and Richard Matthew (eds), Environmental Security.  London: Routledge, pp.82-102.

2012. Sweet and Sour: The Oil Curse in the Niger delta, The Energy Reader edited by Tom Butler, Daniel Lerch and George Wuerthner, Post Carbon Institute, Santa Rosa, California,pp.247-256.

2012. A tale of two gulfs: life, death and dispossession along two oil frontiers,  American Quarterly, Vol. 64/3, pp.437-467 (reprinted in Paula Chakrabarty and Denise da Silva (eds)., Race, Empire and the Crisis of the Subprime. Baltimore; The Johns Hopkins Press, 2013).

2012. Globophobia, entry in Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization, editor George Ritzer, London: Blackwell.

2012. Bare Life and the New Interregnum, new Introduction to the second edition of Silent Violence: Food, Famine and peasantry in northern Nigeria.   Athens: University of Georgia Press.

2012. Modular Development, Diminutive Capitalists and the Financialization of Capitalism, Antipode, 44/2, pp. 535-541.

2012. Of Bats, Birds and Mice, in Gunnar Olsson: On the Geographies of Gunnar Olsson, eds., C. Abrahamson and M. Gren (Ashgate), Ashgate: Farnham, pp.143-155.

2012. Nigeria and the Politics of Price, The Mark, January 25th.

2012. Economies of Violence: A Critique of the World Development Report 2011.  Humanity, 3/1 (Spring), pp.115-130.

2012. Caught on the hop of history: Communes and Communards on the Canvas of 1968, in West of Eden:  Communes and Utopia in Northern California.  PM Press: Oakland.  Iain Boal, Cal Winslow, Janferie Stone and Michael Watts (eds), pp.249-271.

2011. Viille Petroliere: Petro-paysages et futures soutenables.  Ecologie et Politique 42, pp. 65-71.

2011. Petroland: Schaften Unde Die Nachhaltigkeit der Zukunft,  in The Oil Show, curated by Inke Arns,  Hartware MeienKunstVerein, (Dortmund U).  Berlin: Verlag (Revolver Publishing), pp.39-51.

2011. Blood Oil, in Stephen Reyna and Andrea Behrends, Stephen Reyna and Gunther Schlee  (eds)., Crude Domination: An Anthropology of Oil, Oxford, Berghahn, pp.49-80.

2011. Crimini dimenticati. vita, morte e inganno nei giacimenti petroliferi della Nigeria (Forgotten Crimes: Life, Death and Illusion on the Nigerian Oilfields), ‘900’, La Fine del Petrolio,  No. 4, pp.133-166.

2011. Turbulent Oil:  Conflict and Insecurity in the Niger Delta (with Ibaba Samuel Ibaba), African Security, 4 (1), 1-19.

2011. Planet of the wageless, Indentities, 18/1, pp.69-80.

2011. Ecologies of Rule, in Craig Calhoun and Georgi Derlugian (eds).,  Possible Futures, New York, New York University Press, pp. 67-92.

2011. Blood Oil: The anatomy of an insurgency in the Niger delta, in A. Behrands and S. Reyna (eds)., Crude Domination,  Oxford, Berghahn, pp.49-80.

2011. Convergences and Divergences,  Dialogues in Human Geography, Vol. 1 (1) 84-89.

2011. Global Political Ecology, in R.Peet, P. Robbins and M. Watts (eds)., Global Political Ecology. London:  Routledge, pp. 1-48

2010 Ed Kashi: Curse of the Black Gold, PORTFOLIO, 51, May, pp.34-44.

2010 Foreword: Insurgency and the prospects fro development and democracy in the Niger delta, in K. Aaron and D. Geoerge (eds).,Placebo as Medicine: The Poverty of Development Intervention And Conflict Resolution Strategies in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria, Port Harcourt, pp.vii-xii.

Forthcoming Editor of a special issue of the Journal of African Development, including the Introduction (with Drs Ibaba and Osagie), lead paper ‘The Rule of Oil: Petro-Politics and the Anatomy of An Insurgency’, Volume 11, # 2.

2010 Oil City: Petro-Landscapes and Sustainable Future, in Gareth Doherty & Mohsten Mostafavi (ed)., Ecological Urbanism. Baden: Lars Muller Publishers, pp.420-430.

Forthcoming Gould’s Book of Fish, in C.Withers and H. Lorimer (ed)., Geographers: Bibliographical Studies, Volume 29, London: Continuum.

2009 Now and Then, Antipode, 41/6, pp. 1152-1168 (reprinted in N. Castree et al., (eds)., The Point is to Change It. Oxford: Blackwell, 2010, pp.10-26).

2009 Reflections, Development and Change, 40/5, 1191-1214.

2009 27 new entries, in The Dictionary of Human Geography, Editors Derek Gregory, Michael Watts et al., (Fifth Edition). London: Blackwell.

Forthcoming Typewriters of the Illiterate, in Stephen Reyna and Andrea Behrends (eds)., An Anthropology of Oil, Oxford, Berghahn.

2009 Neo-colonialism, and Developmentalism, in Nigel Thrift and Rob Kitchin (editors)., International Encyclopedia of Human Geography,Oxford, Elsevier, Volume 3, pp.123-130, and Volume 7 pp.360-64.

2009 Radicalism, Writ Large and Small, in Jonathan Pugh (ed)., What Is Radical Politics Today?, London., Palgrave, pp.103-112.

2009 Slipping into Darkness: Nigeria on the brink, Counterpunch, August 12th (http://www.counterpunch.org/watts08122009.html).

2009 Oil, Development and the Politics of the Bottom Billion, MacCalaster International, Volume 24 (summer), 79-130.

2009 Has Globalization failed in Nigeria? Q5 (Yale School of Management), Spring Issue, pp.72-79.

2008 Exploitation, in William Darity (editor)., International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, New York, Gale, Volume 2, 63-65.

2008 Petroleum in Africa, Encyclopedia of the Modern World, New York, Oxford University Press., Volume 3 (e-reference editions hhtp://www.oxford-modernworld.com/entry?entry=t254.e1233-s2).

2008 Soft machine: Notes on Oil Addiction, Human Geography 1/2., pp.33-41.

2008 Nigeria: les guerilleros de l’or noir. Alternatives Internationales, #41, December, pp.16-19.

2008 The Totality for Grownups (RETORT), Public Culture, 20/3, pp.583-595.

2008 What might resistance to neoliberalism consist of? In James McCarthy and Scott Prudham (eds)., Neoliberal Environments. London, Routledge, pp. 273-279.

2008 The Price of our oil addiction, in David Elliot Cohen (ed)., What Matters. Sterling Publishers: New York/London, pp.222-242.

2008 Blood Oil: Anatomy of an oil insurgency in the Niger Delta, FOCAAL: European Journal of Anthropology, 52/08, pp.18-38.

2008 The Southern Question, in C. Kay and H.Akram-Lodhi (eds)., Peasants and Globalization. London: Routledge, pp.262-288.

2008 Economies of Violence., in Amita Baviska (Editor).,Contested Grounds: Essays on Nature, Culture and Power. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, p..1061-36.

2008 Economies of Violence: More Blood, More Oil, in A.Baviskar (ed)., Contested Grounds: Essays on Nature, Culture and Power. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp.106-136.

2008 Imperial Oil: The anatomy of an oil insurgency, in Erdkunde, 62/1, pp.27-39.

2008 Anatomy of an oil insurgency, in K. Omeje (ed)., Extractive Economies and Conflicts in the Global South. London: Ashgate, pp.51-74.

2007 Petro-Insurgency or Criminal Syndicate?, Review of African Political Economy, No.114, pp.637-660.

2007 So Goes Port Harcourt….: Violence and Political Disorder in the Niger Delta, CSIS Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC.( http://forums.csis.org/africa/?cat=8).

2007 Crisis in Nigeria, Alexander’s Oil and Gas Journal, 12/2, January 31st 2007. [reprinted as ‘Oil Inferno’ in Counterpunch January 2007).

2007 Revolutionary Islam and Modern Terror, Allan Pred and Derek Gregory (eds)., Violent Geographies, London, Routledge.

2006 An Exchange on Afflicted Powers. October 115, pp,3-13.

2006 Neither There War nor their Peace/All Quiet on the Eastern Front, in Okwui Enwezor (ed)., The Unhomely. BIACS @: Seville, pp.27-31 (reprinted in New Left Review, 41, September 2006, pp.88-92.), RETORT.

2006 The Liberal International (with I.Boal), Radical Philosophy, #140, December 2006, pp.40-45.

2006 Empire of Oil, Monthly Review, Vol. 58/4, pp.1-16.

2006 The Sinister Life of the Community in G. Creed (ed)., The Seductions of Community. School of American Research, Santa Fe, pp. 101-142.

  1. 2006. Antinomies of Community in G. Creed (ed)., The Romance of Community. School of American Research, Santa Fe.
  2. 2006. Imperial Oil, Socialist Review, April, 2006 (with Anna Zalik).

    2006. Culture, Development and Global Neoliberalism, in S.Radcliffe (ed)., Culture and Development in a Globalising World, London, Routledge, pp. 30-58.2006. In Search of the Holy Grail: Projects, Proposals and Research Design, in Ellen Perecman (ed)., Method is the Madness. New York, Sage, pp. 175-197.2005. Blood for Oil? London Review of Books, March 31st (with I.Boal and J.Matthews), pp. 12-17.2005. Left Retort, Antipode, 37/4, pp. 643-654.2005. Righteous Oil?: Human rights, the oil complex and corporate social responsibility, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 30, pp. 9.1-9.35.2005. Revolutionary Islam, Terror and The Colonial Present, Progress in Human Geography, 25/3 , pp.7-16.2005. Baudelaire over Berea. Public Culture. 17/1 pp.181-192 (reprinted in S.Nuttall and A. Mbembe (eds)., Johannesburg: the elusive metropolis, Duke University Press, 2005).

2005. Nature/Culture: A Natural History, in R.Johnston and P.Cloke (eds)., Spaces of Geographical Thought. London: Sage, pp. 142-174.

2005. Scarcity, Modernity, Terror, in C. Zerner and B.Subramanian (eds)., Making Threats. Rowanheld, pp. 99-106.

2004. Antinomies of Community, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, special issue, 29, 195-216

2004. Resource Curse?: Governmentality, Oil and Power in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, Geopolitics [Special issue] 9/1.

2003. Development and Governmentality. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 24/1, pp. 6-34.

2003. Alternative Modern: Development as Cultural Geography, in S. Pile, N. Thrift and K. Anderson M. Domosh, (eds)., Handbook of Cultural Geography, Sage: London, pp. 433-453,

2002. Chronicle of a Death Foretold: Some Thoughts on Peasants and the Agrarian Question, Oesterreichische Zeitschrift fuer Geschichtswissenschaften, 4, pp. 22-51 (and commentary pp. 51-61).

2002. Hour of darkness. Geographica Helvetica, 57/1, pp. 5-18.

2001. Black Acts, New Left Review, 9, pp. 125-139.

2001. Introduction–Violent Environments, in N. Peluso and M. Watts (eds)., Violent Environments. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 3-38.

2001. Petro-Violence: Community, Extraction, and Political Ecology of a Mythic Commodity, in N. Peluso and M. Watts (eds.), Violent Environments. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 189-212.

2001. 1968 and all that. Progress in Human Geography, 25/2, pp.157-188.

2001. Violent Geographies: Speaking and Unspeakable and the Politics of Space, City and Society, XIII/1, pp. 85-117.

2001. Development Ethnographies, Ethnography 2/2, pp. 283-300.

2000. Development at the Millennium: Malthus, Marx and the Politics of Alternatives. Geographische Zeitschrift, 88/2, pp. 67-93.

2000. Political Ecology, in T. Barnes and E. Sheppard (eds.), A Companion To Economic Geography, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 257-275.

2000. The Great Tablecloth: Bread and Butter Politics, and the Political Economy of Food and Poverty, in G. Clark, M. Gertler and Feldmann (eds.), A Handbook of Economic Geography. London: Oxford University Press, pp. 195-215.

2000. Contested Communities, Malignant Markets, and Gilded Governance, in Charles Zerner (ed)., People, Plants and Justice. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 21-51.

2000. Poverty and the Politics of Alternatives at the End of the Millennium, in Jan Nederveen Pieterse (ed.), Global Futures. London: Zed Press, pp. 133-147.

2000. Dictionary of Human Geography edited by R. Johnston et al. (eds.), Oxford: Blackwell, thirty-seven entries,

2000. The Hettner Lectures: Geographies of Violence. Heidelberg: University of Heidelberg.

Writing and Crafting A Dissertation Prospectus: A Website for Students
Writing research and grant proposals is one of the most difficult — and unavoidable — requirements of graduate study in the social sciences. When it comes time to write them, however, many graduate students feel left to their own devices. This website is designed to help you navigate the hazards this process entails.

This site comprises a collection of tips, samples, and links. It is not meant as a class, nor a substitute for feedback from colleagues and advisors. It is merely an amiable guide meant to help you through an important phase in your academic career. Although biased in favor of “area studies” specialists and those planning to spend extended periods overseas, the content of this workshop is intended to be useful for all students hoping to conduct empirical social-scientific fieldwork.

Effective research or funding proposals are products of what is often a long, lonely, and frustrating process. What is more, many social science graduate students face this challenge with little guidance from teachers or supervisors. While significant differences exist among projects, disciplines, and funders, this site is intended to provide guidance on some common objectives and obstacles. It raises questions to consider, reflections from those who have survived the process, and sage advice from those who are likely to read and evaluate your proposal. It is intended for those just thinking about a research proposal and for those who are already further along.

The site is organized into five inter-related sections, all accessible from the home page. Each of these sub-sections is oriented to a some specific aspect of the grant writing process and includes a series of concise priority lists, links, and samples. There is no best way to use this site. We suggest you spend a couple of minutes looking around to see what might be useful for you now, and what you might need later on. If there is something specific you want to find, or a page you want to re-visit, please use the search engine included on the home page. What follows below is a brief description of the site’s five major sub-sections.

The site’s process and parameters section provides the most explicit advice. Here you will find both general guidelines for what to do (and what to avoid) as well critical characteristics of the proposal’s various sections (e.g., the introduction, methodology, etc.). The nuts and bolts section works as a supplement, providing key practical advice as to how to piece together your work; finding an appropriate and realistic research design, developing a budget, and other concrete tasks which are often ignored in departments’ methodology classes. Our style section offers tips on crafting the proposal as a written document; editing, integrating, and revising. Examples of successful proposals and commentaries from their authors (on both the writing process and their post-field work impressions of their original ideas) are found in the examples area. We have organized these by both discipline and funding body, so you can find those are most relevant to your own work. If you are still searching for the right funder, or feel you need further information on grant writing, the resources section may be just what you need.