Accepted paper:

The gold miner's "white cane": technology and luck in gold mines in Upper Guinea (Guinea)


Anna Dessertine (French National Institute for Sustainable Development)

Paper short abstract:

After more than a year’s fieldwork in Upper Guinea, I wish to question how the introduction of metal detectors, and the new possibilities they offer, has impacted gold miners’ representations of their own work and how it is related to the local conceptions of luck and uncertainty.

Paper long abstract:

The aim of this paper is to question how the introduction of a new technological tool has impacted gold-miners' representations of their own work, and more specifically, the importance that luck holds in their daily practices. Indeed, in Upper Guinea, gold is considered as the property of specific spiritual entities. These spirits (djinn) are supposed to « choose » the individuals to whom they show gold. Thus, whenever a miner finds gold, he is considered to be « lucky ». I have carried out a year of fieldwork in a village of Upper Guinea, where I have regularly accompanied miners to artisanal gold mines they work in. Through participant-observation and interviews I have noted that a miner's success is considered as the outcome of his own luck rather than the result of his savoir-faire. In 2011, however, artisanal gold-miners started to use a new technology: metal detectors, locally called "white cane". This brought me to delve deeper in miners' representations of luck and of their work. First, I will describe the religious and magical views about gold in the area and their consequences on the exploitation of gold. Then, I will show how the use of detectors has led mining migrations to be less stable and more masculine. Finally, I will discuss the manners by which agents justify their success and relate it to luck. It will appear that gold miners' practices in Guinea cannot be fully understood if the local representations of luck and uncertainty are not thoroughly considered.

panel P031
Mining technology: practices, knowledge and materials across and beyond the mines