Shifting Livelihoods
Gold Mining and Subsistence in the Chocó, Colombia
An important, accessible, beautifully written book. . . . Tubb looks at the highly significant issue of extraction from multiple angles and places it in thinkable economic, social, and cultural contexts.

- Marjo de Theije, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Through the prism of the miners, their families, and their communities, Tubb provides a nuanced, complex analysis of the concept of rebusque.

- María Clemencia Ramírez, author of Between the Guerrillas and the State: The Cocalero Movement, Citizenship, and Identity in the Colombian Amazon.
Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Readers,

I am excited to let you know about my first book, Shifting Livelihoods: Gold Mining and Subsistence in the Chocó, Colombia. The book emerged from the eighteen months I spent learning how to mine gold with hand tools and techniques in the Colombian Pacific department of the Chocó, between 2010 and 2012. I spent time working at artisanal and small-scale gold mines and living in an Afro-Colombian community. I published some of this material in a 2015 article called “Muddy Decisions.”

I spent the next three years writing a book about life in a gold rush. The book describes the lives of people who employ various methods to extract gold in the rainforests of the Chocó: Rural Afro-Colombian artisanal miners work hillsides with hand tools or dredge mud from river bottoms. Migrant miners level the landscape with excavators, then trap gold with mercury. Canadian mining companies prospect for open-pit mega-mines. Drug traffickers launder cocaine profits by smuggling gold into Colombia and claiming it came from fictitious small-scale mines. Through an ethnography of gold that examines the movement of people, commodities, and capital, the book shows how resource extraction reshapes a place. Gold enables forms of a shifting livelihood (rebusque), a metaphor for the fluid livelihood strategy adopted by forest dwellers and migrant gold miners alike, as they seek informal work amid a drug war. Mining’s effects on rural people, corporations, and politics are on view in a fine-grained account of daily life in a regional economy dominated by gold and cocaine.

What I hadn’t planned on when I wrote this book was how much work it would take to write a readable, lyric, and accessible book, appropriate not only for researchers, but also undergraduates and broader publics. I spent much time crafting a book that is evocative of life during a gold rush, replete with the complexity and contradiction that one finds during long term ethnographic fieldwork. What began as eighteen months learning how to mine gold, followed by three years writing, is a readable account of life during a twenty-first-century gold rush in Colombia.

I hope you will give Shifting Livelihoods a read and share your thoughts with me—you can find me on Twitter (@danieltubb) or e-mail (