Accepted paper:

Rotten earth and relationality: rethinking sustainability and wellbeing through a case of Amazonian wildcat mining.


Amy Penfield (University of Bristol)

Paper short abstract:

Focusing on the case of the Sanema of Venezuelan Amazonia, this paper critiques mainstream ideas of wellbeing and sustainability by exploring the interplay between kinship, animism and wider political processes that make up the resource encounter at the local level.

Paper long abstract:

This paper offers an account of resource extraction in Venezuelan Amazonia and how the Sanema make sense of the phenomenon in relation to their wider moral ethos. By paying attention to the subtleties in discourse and action associated with artisanal gold mining, it is revealed that pragmatic and economic analyses are insufficient in articulating their understanding of resources and their governance. The paper instead uncovers the nuances of animist perceptions of the earth, interactions with nonhuman forest inhabitants, and kinship dynamics of conviviality in order to reconceptualise both the resources themselves and the relational fields that underpin their management. The case of the wildcat gold mining, in particular, offers a alternative perspective to those of state-initiated or corporate extraction, given that the moral ambiguities associated with this form of prospecting - a sense of opportunity on the one hand, but of underlying tensions on the other - become far more salient. In this way, rather than taking for granted the concepts of wellbeing and sustainability, the ethnography presents a critique of Euro-American models of personhood and environmentalism that underpin these paradigms.

panel P19
Thinking otherwise at the extractive frontier: conflict, negotiation, translation, and a more equitable conversation