Between Visible and Invisible; ENI and the Building of the African Petroleumscape


Giulia Scotto
Routledge, 2021

In 1955, the Italian national hydrocarbon agency Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI) launched what the coordinator of ENI’s activities in North and West Africa later described as its “grande disegno africano,” the company’s exploratory and commercial expansion into the African continent.1 Despite Italy’s colonial past, ENI managed to establish itself as a seemingly neutral actor and, within ten years, it entered the oil market of twenty-five newly founded African countries—including the former Italian colonies and many newly independent countries of the sub-Saharan region. Through diplomacy, advertising, and the construction of material artifacts such as refineries, pipelines, motels, and gas stations, ENI (or “Eni” as it was renamed after privatization in the 1990s) developed an incremental network of more and less visible lines and nodes through which oil was extracted, transported, refined, and commercialized. In order to understand the impact of the oil industry on spatial and social realities, we need to consider, as suggested by this volume, the entire petroleumscape: “the layered physical and social landscape” created by petrocapitalism.2 The Lefebvrian triad of represented, material, and experienced spaces linked by the notion of the petroleumscape is particularly useful as a way of questioning the relationship between the spatial and the propagandistic operations of ENI and the lived experience of the infrastructural artifacts built by its subsidiaries.3 Adopting this holistic approach, this chapter interrogates actors, typologies, spaces, and scales often neglected by architectural historians, and combines the study of the