Questioning the (un)sustainability of Artisanal and Small-scale Mining

Eleanor Fisher (University of Reading)
Cristiano Lanzano (The Nordic Africa Institute (Uppsala, Sweden))
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Short abstract:

This Panel examines the Global Challenge of (un)sustainability in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining, considering what anthropology has to offer for understanding possible futures in mining worlds.

Long abstract:

Commodity booms, and the expansion of mining economies and extractive capitalism, recurrently fuel narratives of development. At the same time, they raise questions of environmental impact, governance and redistribution that are at the core of public debate on Global Challenges and sustainability. The expansion of Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM), especially in the global South, embodies both evolutionary views of economic potentialities and bottom-up entrepreneurship, and anxieties on the harmful character of an informal sector. Indeed, portraits of (un)sustainability follow a well-worn path: ASM is portrayed as the trope of an unsustainable activity threatening people and planet, one entangled with negative moral judgements. Yet anthropologists have shown that ASM catalyzes change and innovation too. Combining geological fixity and human mobilities, the discovery and exploitation of mineral reserves bring territorial arrangements and resource claims into question while exposing identity politics and modes of authority. How can mainstream definitions of sustainability be de-centred? What is being "sustained", by whom and for whom? How are futures imagined, and temporalities reframed, in connection with processes of socio-technical change and local political mobilization? What, if any, opportunities exist to shift the terms of dominant debate, including in ways that give credence to mining voices? Aiming to interrogate consolidated representations of ASM through ethnographic contributions, this Panel provides a timely opportunity to question what anthropology can bring to dominant perspectives on sustainability in ASM, including the political economies that marginalize the voices of artisanal miners, and of local communities, in articulating their visions of possible futures.