Accepted paper:

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

Authors:

Matthieu Bolay (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)

Paper 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.

Paper 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".

panel P031
Mining technology: practices, knowledge and materials across and beyond the mines