I am a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow at the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University’s MacMillan Center.
I am a sociocultural anthropologist, and my research intersects economic anthropology, political economy, resource extraction, and social theory.
I recently completed my dissertation Gold in the Chocó, a study of gold mining in Colombia’s northwest. I conducted eighteen months ethnographic fieldwork labouring as an artisanal and small-scale gold miner.
My research connects the physicality of mining to the many meanings of gold locally and globally. Wooden pans, hand tools, and ancestral techniques provide livelihoods to Afro-descendant communities. The money they earn selling flecks of gold complements their subsistence gardening, hunting, and fishing. Afro-descendant miners must compete with more industrial Brazilian and Colombian small-scale miners. The latter brought a gold rush that expanded the illegal mining frontier and introduced a large informal economy. Migrant workers seek their fortunes on scattered camps amid thick and hilly tropical forests. In these camps, workers find bad wages, insecure conditions, and dangerous work. They use mercury, a toxic heavy metal, to extract gold. Their large excavators and floating dredges destroy wide swaths of forest and reshape rivers. And, this kind of mining destabilizes rural livelihoods by forcing the Afro-descendant peasants to migrate to nearby towns.
In addition to these kinds of mining, I explore gold’s connections from the Chocó elsewhere. I examine the ways mining feeds Colombia’s internal conflicts as paramilitaries, guerrillas, and the army regularly extort small-scale miners. Drawing on conversations, newspaper reports, and official gold production statistics, I outline a thirty-year history of drug money laundering through fake gold mining. To complete the story, I turn to junior Canadian mining companies with exploration projects in the region. I address junior mining companies on Canadian stock markets as ventures that profit not just from the gold in Colombia’s jungles but also from selling investors the promise of future profits from mines that may never exist.
My work in the Chocó brings together smugglers, Canadian companies, illegal miners, and subsistence producers to explore global issues in local places.