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In my academic research, I focus on the cultural, social, economic, and environmental aspects of small-scale gold mining in the Amazon region, especially in Brazil and the Guianas, but also in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. In Suriname and French Guiana, I work with the Brazilian migrant miners and the Aluku and Ndjuka maroon population in the gold fields. 

I have also done policy-oriented work on middle and small-scale mining (gems, gold, aggregates) in Brazil, the routes of illegally mined gold in the Guiana’s, fair mined gold in Bolivia and environmental regulation for small-scale gold mining in Suriname. 

In 2004, I started anthropological research among Brazilian migrants in Suriname, soon to find out that the main attraction of the country were the gold deposits in the Guiana Shield. This was the start of a new line of research to be developed, as small-scale gold mining became the central focus of my investigation. Since 2006 I conducted extensive anthropological fieldwork in Antino and Benzdorp mining sites in the Southeast of Suriname and have made many short trips to other mining areas in the country.

The gold rush in Suriname involves thousands of Brazilians, local indigenous and maroon people, and Surinamese entrepreneurs from the city. Periodically foreign and large capital owning companies are also entering. In this research the dynamics of the interplay between all the actors engaged in the gold prospecting and extraction is analysed from several perspectives, such as (1) the construction of prosperity, fortune, opportunity, and security, (2) localization of riches and land rights in the context of (seasonal) migration, national borders and regional integration, (3) notions of individuality and community in the organization of live in the gold fields (basic stability, trust, absence of state power, minimal features of the – temporal – society).

Over the years my work with gold mining developed in several directions. The focus on Brazilian migrant miners was broadened to include maroon miners and the interaction between local maroon and indigenous populations, who are sometimes miners themselves, and the migrant miners. The arrival of urban businessmen and foreign junior exploration companies led to new social dynamics in the field. And the attempts of the national authorities to control the informal economy in the interior also brought other research questions to be addressed.

The work on small-scale gold mining led to the comparative Amazon wide GOMIAM Project funded by WOTRO (2011-2016). The full name of the project is Small-scale gold mining and social conflict in the Amazon: Comparing states, environments, local populations and miners in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Suriname. It focused on environmental problems and socio-political conflicts resulting from small-scale gold mining in the Amazon. Polluting activities of gold mining may threaten the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and the natural environment in general. Cross-border tensions arise when miners from one country move to another or smuggle gold between countries. With techniques becoming more mechanized, the scale of the problems increased considerably in the past decade. See www.gomiam.org for more information on this research and policy project.

The GOMIAM experience recently found a follow-up with the ST-ASGM project that I developed with colleagues from Reading, São Paulo, Campinas, Hamburg, Uppsala, Ouagadougou and Leiden. It was awarded 1,5 million euro by in the Norface – Belmont Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) program, to do research in East Africa, West Africa and Brazil/Guyana region. For more info, see: https://www.norface.net/program/transformations-to-sustainability/

Between April 2016 and April 2018 I spent most of my time in Brazil, working on a project commissioned by the Ministry of Mining and Energy and Worldbank with a team of researchers from Projekt Consult (Germany). We made a technical, legal, economic and socio-cultural inventory of the small-scale mining sector in Brazil, in which my main contribution consisted of five field studies on gold, gems and construction materials. More information about this project can be found on the website of the ministry http://www.mme.gov.br/web/guest/projetos/meta/apresentacao

My research career began working on Catholicism, social movements, popular religion, democratization, gender and development and I spent many years in Brazil conducting research. For my PhD thesis, I lived 18 months (between 1989-1991) in Garanhuns, Pernambuco, to study liberationist Catholicism. The year as visiting professor in Recife and a more recent CAPES/NUFFIC program on Transnational Religion (with UFRGS) are also projects in this line of research. I have supervised many Master and PhD candidates with topics related to it and I am still available for such research projects.


  • GN Anthropology
  • H Social Sciences (General)
  • F1201 Latin America (General)
  • HD Industries. Land use. Labor
  • HT Communities. Classes. Races
  • JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
  • TN Mining engineering. Metallurgy

Fingerprint Fingerprint is based on mining the text of the person's scientific documents to create an index of weighted terms, which defines the key subjects of each individual researcher.

gold Social Sciences
miner Social Sciences
Suriname Social Sciences
Brazil Social Sciences
Bolivia Social Sciences
Colombia Social Sciences
certification Earth & Environmental Sciences
environmental management Social Sciences

Network Recent external collaboration on country level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots.

Research Output 1998 2018

Conflicts in marginal locations: Small-scale gold-mining in the Amazon

de Theije, M. & Salman, T., 2018, Between the Plough and the Pick: Informal, artisanal and small-scale mining the contemporary world. Lahiri-Dutt, K. (ed.). Acton: Australian National University Press, p. 261-274 14 p. 12

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

Open Access

Diagnóstico Socioeconômico e Ambiental da Mineração em Pequena Escala no Brasil

Mathis, A. & de Theije, M., 14 Jun 2018, 289 p. (Relatório Socioeconômico e Ambiental da Mineração em Pequena Escala; vol. 3, no. 1)

Research output: Book / ReportReportProfessional

Open Access
public policy

Diagnóstico Socioeconômico e Ambiental da Mineração em Pequena Escala no Brasil (MPE). Relatório 8: Relatório Final

Mathis, A., Pinto Chaves, A., de Tomi, G., Seccatore, J., Reis Rosa, M., de Theije, M. & Elis, V., 19 Jun 2018, 236 p.

Research output: Book / ReportReportProfessional

Open Access

Estudo de caso 1: Tapajós (ouro): Relatório Socioeconômico e Ambiental da Mineração em Pequena Escala.

de Theije, M., Silva de Andrade, L., Mathis, A. & Gibson, A., 30 Mar 2018, 97 p.

Research output: Book / ReportReportProfessional

Open Access

Estudo de caso 2: Vale do Peixoto (ouro): Relatório Socioeconômico e Ambiental da Mineração em Pequena Escala

de Theije, M., Silva de Andrade, L., Mathis, A. & Gibson, A., 30 Mar 2018, 100 p.

Research output: Book / ReportReportProfessional

Open Access

Activities 1999 2018

Garimpo de ouro na Amazônia e a inquietação da antropologia engajada

de Theije, M. E. M. (Speaker)
15 Mar 2018

Activity: Lecture / PresentationAcademic

Journal of Cleaner Production (Journal)

de Theije, M. E. M. (Reviewer)
2 Jan 201824 Dec 2018

Activity: Peer review and Editorial workPeer reviewAcademic


de Theije, M. E. M. (Participant)
6 Dec 20187 Dec 2018

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventWorkshopAcademic

Journal of Latin American an Caribbean Anthropology (Journal)

de Theije, M. E. M. (Reviewer)
2 Jan 201824 Dec 2018

Activity: Peer review and Editorial workPeer reviewAcademic

XIX Fábrica de Ideias. Territórios, Mobilidade e Fronteiras.

de Theije, M. E. M. (Participant)
4 Jul 201815 Jul 2018

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventOther eventAcademic

Press / Media

Bureau Buitenland Zomer Express-gast

M.E.M. de Theije


1 media contribution

Press/Media: Public Engagement Activities

Goud kan eerlijker. Proactieve wetenschap

S Haaij & M.E.M. de Theije


1 media contribution

Press/Media: Other