Amalgamation: Social, technological, and legal entanglements in small-scale gold-mining regions in Colombia and Suriname

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Popular and scholarly accounts often describe small-scale gold mining as a conflict-ridden economy that takes place in regions where state law is lacking. Our long-term ethnographic research in Colombia and Suriname has shown that stakeholder agendas in the goldfields, although often at variance, also come together in unexpected compromises and entanglements. We therefore propose to think of small-scale gold mining as an activity of not only conflict, but also of amalgamation; that is, as an activity that brings presumably adversary actors, labor practices, and governance systems together in temporary moments of conviviality. We present a three-pronged ethnographic analysis to sustain our proposition, thereby conceptualizing amalgamation as a social, technological,
and legal phenomenon. First, we show that mining regions are characterized by social amalgamation; that is to say, by continuous compromises between the competing agendas of stakeholders. Second, we zoom in on technological amalgamation. We set out that technological differences that provoke hostility and conflict also have a more productive side, as miners employing various methods depend on each other in the process of gold extraction. And third, we provide illustrations of legal amalgamation that serve to highlight that the sociopolitical organization of small-scale gold mining, while largely happening outside the legal framework, comes into being through the symbolism and material infrastructure of the state.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Nov 2021


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