EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P031)

Mining technology: practices, knowledge and materials across and beyond the mines

Location M-133
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 11:00

Convenors

Lorenzo D'Angelo (University of Milano-Bicocca) email
Michael Bürge (University of Konstanz) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel aims at analysing and comparing strategies, techniques, and materials employed by miners in various localities of large scale, small-scale and artisanal scale mining. It welcomes studies that zoom in into technology as the interweaving of social and material practices.

Long Abstract

Mining technology is an assemblage of knowledge, tools, and skills elaborated in and taken from different contexts. Locally, it is innovatively translated and adapted to and by specific social, economic and political circumstances. Consequently, it is the contingent outcome of multifarious collaborations between social actors with variegated working experiences who operate in a continual dialectical tension in and with the demanding local environments.

This panel aims at analysing and comparing strategies, techniques, and materials employed by miners in various localities of large scale, small-scale and artisanal scale mining. It encourages therefore contributors for synchronic and/or diachronic comparison of, but not limited to, the uses and materiality of specific tools; the employment of work skills and mineral knowledge accumulated and shared in different places and times; the historical transformations of particular techniques and modes of organizing the work in different mining regions or in different extractive contexts (e.g. gold, coltan, diamond mining).This panel promotes, however, approaches that go beyond the mere description and classification of tools, materials or mining techniques. It invites scholars to zoom in into technology as the interweaving of social and material activities that produce 'communities of practice'. Therefore the panel welcomes studies that shed light on the intimate connection between the bodily movements of the workers and their tools; between their sophisticated extractive techniques and larger historical and political processes; the ritual and the magical-religious dimension of mining as a way of acting on objects and subjects.

Chair: Tilo Grätz (FU Berlin)
Discussant: Sam Spiegel (University of Edinburgh)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Going for gold, going for ore: mining concessions and techniques of appropriation in Ghana

Authors: Robert Pijpers (University of Oslo)  email
Sabine Luning (Leiden University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper proposes a three-dimensional approach to the study of mining operations. Whereas mining articulations have foremost been framed in a two-dimensional view, our 3D approach allows to see how different techniques of gold mining create room for manoeuvre to work out forms of co-habitation.

Long Abstract

Even though the study of gold mining and mining companies appears to be as booming as gold mining itself, certain crucial characteristics of mining operations do not obtain sufficient attention. The articulations between large scale and small-scale mining, and between mining and other forms of land use have foremost been framed in a two dimensional perspective. This paper proposes a spatial approach, which explicitly moves from a flat to a three-dimensional perspective: Different miners work different parts of deposits, at different depths, and rework the same ore in different ways.

A three dimensional approach allows to see how the different techniques of gold mining create room for manoeuvre to work out forms of co-habitation. In many gold mining sites both industrial and artisanal mining occur side by side. Our 3D approach shows that the ways in which mining companies allow or prohibit artisanal mining on their concessions are informed by the geological situation and the different techniques that can be used to access specific parts of the orebody. Moreover, the paper stresses that the room for manoeuvre also depends upon the technical stage of a large scale operation; the options for co-habitation are different for exploration companies and majors with a producing mine.

This paper draws upon a study of two concessions in Ghana, a country where the interactions between large scale and small scale miners are influenced by the world of politics; both the power holders in the national political arena and local chiefs affect mining arrangements.

Technologies of gold mining in Morales' Bolivia: cooperatives, process organization, and the protection of the Amazon

Author: Ton Salman (VU University Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

The aim is to tell the story about how various factors in Bolivia came together to result in a technological and organizational constellation that is peculiar and at the same time illustrative for the complexity and multilayeredness of small scale gold mining in the Amazon region.

Long Abstract

Ton Salman, a.j.salman@vu.nl

(Member of the research group Gold Mining in the Amazon (GOMIAM), coordinated by Marjo de Theije, based at CEDLA Amsterdam, see http://www.gomiam.org/content/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=78&Itemid=27)

Technologies of gold mining in Morales' Bolivia: cooperatives, process organization, and the protection of the Amazon

Small scale gold mining is still booming worldwide, in spite of diminishing price levels for gold in recent months. The actors and stakeholders, the techniques and successes, the demographic, environmental and health consequences differ from country to country and from place to place. In this paper the focus will be on a specific but telling case study, the alluvial small scale gold mining in northern Bolivia, in the Madre de Dios River.

The aim is to tell the story about how various factors came together to result in a technological and organizational constellation that is peculiar and at the same time illustrative for the complexity and multilayeredness of small scale gold mining in the Amazon region. Here enter Bolivia's history of vivid grass root organization, the current political setting in which pro-poor and even socialist policies sit uneasy with pro-environment discourses, the life history of a mining cooperative, and the ways in which organizational characteristics are reflected in social stratification and labor division both on and off the gold mining pontoons in the river that crosses the Bolivian Amazon from west to east. Hence, the aim is to reflect upon how technical and political conditions have impact on the interlinkages between actors both on and involved with the pontoon mining.

Technologies of mobility in small-scale gold mining

Authors: Marjo de Theije (VU University Amsterdam)  email
Sabine Luning (Leiden University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the small-scale gold mining practice in the Guyanas by focusing on mobility of gold. This sheds light on the complexity and interaction of scales of authority, economic opportunity, and how miners go about in the gold fields. The miners need to control the technology of mobility.

Long Abstract

In this paper we discuss the small scale gold mining practice in the Guyanas by focusing on mobility of gold. Gold crosses national borders, border mountains and border rivers, without much ado. The borders are permeable, mining technologies, equipment, produce, all go through. But at the same time they are concrete realities when it comes to the divergent national policies with respect to small-scale gold mining in the region, between repression, containment, criminalization and tolerance. Then the borders become incentives for mobility, sources for lucrative trading relations, or means for hiding. Mobility is a prerequisite to be a successful miner in this context. However, there are always limits to it. In the Guyanas mobility is also ethnically determined. For foreigners, outsiders, visitors, the territory for mining is more accessible than it is for maroon miners, whose identity is related to the traditional territory of their group. Finally, gold can become a source of immobility too, e.g. when it is invested in an excavator or bulldozer that cannot be transported easily. Or when a miner 'left the gold in the engine' to take it out later, but finds there is no gold anymore when he wants to leave. The focus on mobility of gold, sheds light on the complexity and interaction of scales of authority, economic opportunity, and personal freedom, and how miners go about in the gold fields. The miners need to control the technology of mobility.

Labor mobility of itinerant gold diggers in West Africa: a network perspective on constraints and opportunities

Author: Matthieu Bolay (University of neuchâtel)  email

Short Abstract

Labor mobility support networks of 60 itinerant gold diggers are compared to understand the dynamics of engagement and spatial mobility in the artisanal gold mining sector in West Africa. Three types of carriers are identified according to the bridging/bonding composition of the mobilized ties.

Long Abstract

Artisanal gold mining is often linked to "forced migration", "forced labor" (and "child labor") in popular representations, while on the contrary some authors focus on the rationality of the actors. The paper aims to approach the agency-constraint continuum experienced by itinerant gold diggers in West Africa by using a network approach. Mobility support networks of 60 itinerant gold diggers are analyzed by comparing their first insertion in the artisanal gold mining sector and their "current" (at time of study) engagement. Results show that three types of miners' carrier can be identified; namely, i) "outisders" with a low degree of support in general and low social constraint, ii) "professionals" with a high degree of support outside the family and low social constraint, and iii) "bounded-miners" with a high degree of support inside the family and high social constraint. Dynamics of mobility and engagement in the ASSM sector, as well as the evolution of "carriers" are then discussed by using ethnographic material and in-depth interviews. Argument is given that the professionalization of the activity through the building of translocal/national personal networks of peers can result to be rewarding in terms of incomes. However, most engaged workers face barriers linked to their obligations vis-à-vis the family, or linked to the stigmatization of their activity. Finally, difficulties for miners to convert the acquired social and material capital is outlined and put in relation with the composition of the established networks in their "mining carriers".

The gold miner's "white cane": technology and luck in gold mines in Upper Guinea (Guinea)

Author: Anna Dessertine (Ecole de Gouvernance et d'Economie de Rabat (UM6P, Maroc))  email

Short Abstract

After more than a year’s fieldwork in Upper Guinea, I wish to question how the introduction of metal detectors, and the new possibilities they offer, has impacted gold miners’ representations of their own work and how it is related to the local conceptions of luck and uncertainty.

Long Abstract

The aim of this paper is to question how the introduction of a new technological tool has impacted gold-miners' representations of their own work, and more specifically, the importance that luck holds in their daily practices. Indeed, in Upper Guinea, gold is considered as the property of specific spiritual entities. These spirits (djinn) are supposed to « choose » the individuals to whom they show gold. Thus, whenever a miner finds gold, he is considered to be « lucky ».

I have carried out a year of fieldwork in a village of Upper Guinea, where I have regularly accompanied miners to artisanal gold mines they work in. Through participant-observation and interviews I have noted that a miner's success is considered as the outcome of his own luck rather than the result of his savoir-faire. In 2011, however, artisanal gold-miners started to use a new technology: metal detectors, locally called "white cane". This brought me to delve deeper in miners' representations of luck and of their work.

First, I will describe the religious and magical views about gold in the area and their consequences on the exploitation of gold. Then, I will show how the use of detectors has led mining migrations to be less stable and more masculine. Finally, I will discuss the manners by which agents justify their success and relate it to luck. It will appear that gold miners' practices in Guinea cannot be fully understood if the local representations of luck and uncertainty are not thoroughly considered.

The religious-magical dimension of mining technology among small-scale miners in the Tanzanite mines in northern Tanzania

Author: Liv Haram (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the effect of neoliberal economy in the Tanzanian mining industry. Small-scale miners use religious-magical techniques as a means to secure their hazardous working conditions, and to make sense as to why some are blessed with fortune while others are not.

Long Abstract

The locus of this paper is the Mererani mining area in northern Tanzania and it explores some of the religious-magical technologies and strategies miners utilise in trying to secure their hazardous working conditions and to enhance their chances in their search for precious gems. Comparing their activities in small-scale farming the mines represent an exciting opportunity for most young men to 'try their luck' and to get 'quick money' - albeit more contingent than farming. The intimate connection between the miners' bodily movements and their tools is underscored by the youngest minors when they crawl like 'snakes' to access gems in the deep and narrow mining pits. Their bodies are their tools. They boost their bodies by taking drugs (khat) when they enter the dangerous and pitch-dark pits. The sweet scent also aims to keep evil forces such as hungry blood-sucking spirits at bay. Khat is, however, not impervious to spirits or evil forces. The most efficient religious-magical technique according to the miners is to sacrifice human beings or body parts (kafara) as a means to enhance their luck. The paper explores the cultural logic as to why sacrifice is an efficient means to enhance their luck in the mines. It draws on the concept of "technologies of anticipation" (da Cal and Humphrey) and suggests that such practices are used to confront and to make sense of what the miners perceive of as unfair distribution of wealth; why some are blessed with fortune while others are not.

Chasing tailings: organisational structures and knowledge transfer practices amongst emerging actors in Tanzania's artisanal gold sector

Authors: Hannelore Verbrugge (IARA)  email
Stina Møldrup Wolff (COWI Tanzania Ltd.)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the organisational structures and knowledge transfer practices amongst actors in the booming gold cyanidation industry in southwest Tanzania, showing how plant operators must constantly balance issues of risk, trust and speculation to stay successful in the industry.

Long Abstract

Tanzania's artisanal gold mining sector is rapidly undergoing socio-economic changes prompted by the recent re-introduction of gold cyanidation practices. Cyanidation (or leaching) plants are currently mushrooming around mining settlements, with operators eager to buy up miners' tailings and extract gold particles through extraction processes using cyanide. Miners see leaching plants as a positive addition to the sector because of their value-adding potential to a commodity that has previously been difficult to capitalise on. In the highly competitive rush for tailings, knowledge, experience and skills are powerful tools, and access to capital paramount. This paper presents an investigation of the organisational structures and knowledge transfer practices within operating tailings companies in Tanzania. The focus of the paper is the booming tailings industry in Chunya District, a flourishing artisanal gold processing centre in southwest Tanzania. The paper shows how plant operators must constantly balance issues of risk, trust and speculation to stay successful in the leaching industry and explores how these emerging actors are fundamentally recasting well-established networks, social dynamics and not least the environmental landscape in Tanzania's artisanal mining settlements.

Hopes for prosperity are high, they are 'golden': small-scale gold mining amongst Ngaju Dayak in Indonesian Borneo

Author: Viola Bizard (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

The presentation provides an ethnographic account on the emergence of small-scale gold mining amongst Ngaju Dayak villagers in Indonesian Borneo. It is argued that although mining allows people to experience ‘states of prosperity’, it remains a transitory moment of local livelihoods.

Long Abstract

The proposed presentation provides an ethnographic account on the emergence of small-scale gold mining as a collective, but transitional practice amongst Ngaju Dayak rattan farmers in Indonesian Borneo in their search for prosperity. Artisanal gold panning has a long history in the area. Yet, recent years have witnessed a dramatic expansion in small-scale gold mining activities, rendering parts of the district as 'hotspots' of mercury contamination in Indonesia. Rather than focusing on tools, materials and working routine, the presentation explores the various factors (such as ecological conditions, government raids, religious-magical beliefs and ritual conduct) that add to making small-scale gold mining a rather precarious endeavor. It is argued that even though mining allows people to experience temporarily 'states of prosperity', small-scale gold mining remains a transitory phenomenon of people's livelihood activities. Examining these 'golden' moments thus not only provides a case for revealing people's hopes for a better present that is yet to come in the future. But, as such, it contributes to understand the circumstances that lead to the (dis)appearence of gold mining practices in situ, despite the (un)known effects of mining on humans and their environment.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.