At a time of a ‘private equity oil rush’, this article explores how oil industry entrepreneurs with ambitions of setting up their own oil production companies are encouraged to ‘dream big’, yet are ultimately let down, by private equity finance in the state of Colorado, United States. Motivated by a desire to ‘do oil differently’, these start-ups articulate utopian visions that draw on inequalities in extractive economies to promote an ethos of care. I argue that while economic imaginations are commonly seen to offer alternatives to and critiques of capitalism, it is important to also attend to articulations of capitalist utopia. As private equity has come to form a secreted infrastructure that underlies much of the world’s financial system, I ask how the contemporary life of capitalism stimulates attitudes to wealth creation that are markedly conventional and unadventurous.


Mette High is Reader in Social Anthropology at the University of St. Andrews. Mette High’s field research is in Mongolia and the United States, where she focuses on questions of ethics and economic life. High is currently on research leave directing the Centre for Energy Ethics at St Andrews, which is a privately funded and fast-growing research centre. High is also leading a European Research Council funded project: "The Ethics of Oil: Finance Moralities and Environmental Politics in the Global Oil Economy (ENERGY ETHICS)". Based on multiple ethnographic studies across the world, this 6-year research project involves a 10-person research team and considers how people in the oil economy make financial and ethical valuations of oil. Before shifting her ethnographic focus to the United States, High pursued a research project on the involvement of Buddhist monks in a country-wide gold rush in Mongolia. Underlying all her research projects, where money, metals and energy travel far beyond national borders, is a keen and ongoing desire to understand how global economic processes intersect with intimate moral views. In addition to her academic publications, she also explores these issues in collaborations with artists and film makers.