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I study the cultural, social, economic, and environmental aspects of resource extraction. Most of my research focused on small-scale gold mining in the Amazon region, especially in Brazil and the Guianas, but I have also done fieldwork in Bolivia, and collaborated with researchers in Colombia and Peru. In Suriname and French Guiana, I work with the Brazilian migrant miners and the Aluku and Ndyuka maroon population in the gold fields. In Brazil most of my work has been in Pará, notably the Tapajós region. Recently, I have started research in Ghana, as part of a collaborative project, and on cross border social and economic consequences of the Venezuelan crisis in Roraima and Bolívar.


The increasing scarcity and potential depletion of natural resources, as well as conflicts over their use, cause profound environmental and social changes. Questions about sustainability arise from concerns about the manageability of conflicting interests and impending resource shortages on a global scale. The anthropological lens helps to examine the processes of change from a holistic perspective, encompassing the explanations of actors in many different relations to the resources. How do people understand pollution, land grabbing, mining disasters and new policies governing their access to the production, distribution and consumption of natural resources? And how do beliefs about the nature of natural resources relate to attitudes, behavior and political choices? 

The anthropology of mining has produced rich ethnographic analyses of the importance of mineral resources such as gold for the livelihoods of indigenous and migrant miners, insights and beliefs regarding these resources and their natural environment in general, and notions of customary law and the legality of access to minerals. It also illustrates how mineral extraction, although formally organized, is primarily informal - and both socially disruptive and environmentally destructive - on the margins of the global economic system. 

Currently, I work with a Brazilian team in a comparative project (Gold Matters) where we question how gold mining practices are embedded in processes of Amazonian frontier territorialisation, and what this means for thinking on transformations to sustainability within environment, economy and community. We also explore how gold dynamics emerge from the materiality of gold, and the impact of mining on governance and human wellbeing.

A new line of research I work on with Eva van Roekel concerns alternative economic and mobility  processes in northern Brazil and the Guianas, including in the situation of protracted conflict and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.


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 polluting activities of gold mining that threaten the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and the natural environment in general, on cross-border tensions when miners from one country move to another or smuggle gold between countries, among other more localized issues. With techniques becoming more mechanized, the scale of the problems increased considerably in the past decade. See https://www.gomiam.org/ for more information on this research and policy project.

The international GOMIAM experience 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 on transformations to sustainability in small scale gold mining in East Africa, West Africa and Brazil/Guyana region. Taking a transformative approach to sustainability is an opportunity to ask what futures are possible in ASGM, critically scrutinizing the character of change and assumptions about what change is possible. Considering gold as vital matter, an emphasis on materiality within the in-depth geopolitics of gold mining gives a means to re-vision sustainable futures. A multi-actor approach is deployed, with comparative analysis across sites in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa. For more info, see: http://gold-matters.org/

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


I have supervised many Master and PhD candidates with topics related to religion, social movements and democratization and I am still available for such research projects. Projects on mining, cultural, economic and technological aspects of natural resourse extraction and use, related migration, and sustainability more broadly interest me most. 

I teach Ethnographic Research Methodology and Development and Globalization in the Bachelor program of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology. 

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  • 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


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