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Frontier Settlements: Territories of artisan mining labour in Africa

English title Frontier Settlements: Territories of artisan mining labour in Africa
Applicant Raeymaekers Timothy
Number 192598
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Geographisches Institut Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Social geography and ecology
Start/End 01.09.2020 - 31.08.2024
Approved amount 917'027.00
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Keywords (8)

brokerage; urbanisation; artisan mining; territorialisation; work/labour; frontier; extractivism; gold

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Nous étudions comment le travail minier artisanal en Afrique génère des territoires extractifs intégrés dans des chaînes d'approvisionnement mondiales et des dynamiques d'urbanisation inégales.
Lay summary

Ce projet de recherche révèle comment l’extraction des ressources souterraines du monde se territorialise grâce à une main-d’œuvre minière artisanale. Par travail extractif, nous entendons le travail qui sert à obtenir la valeur des gisements minéraux «naturels». Par territorialisation, nous entendons la manière dont un tel travail est socialement et spatialement intégré dans des assemblages extractifs multi-échelles. Dans le débat sur la durabilité planétaire, l'exploitation minière suscite une critique croissante pour son impact environnemental et social dommageable. Cependant, la discussion a tendance à se limiter aux sites d'extraction à grande échelle. Étant donné qu'environ 40 millions de personnes dans le monde travaillent dans l'exploitation minière artisanale et à petite échelle (Artisan and Small-Scale Mining), il est nécessaire d'évaluer le rôle plus large de cette (re) production soi-disant «informelle» et «non industrialisée» en termes sociales, politiques et environnementaux. Nos recherches portent sur l'Afrique, plus précisément le Zimbabwe, la République Démocratique du Congo et le Burkina Faso. La ressource étudiée sera l'or, dont la production - en partie à cause de la crise financière mondiale actuelle - connaît des niveaux croissantes. Nous étudions le rôle central que le travail extractif mobile et souvent très précaire des mineurs africains artisanaux joue dans la transformation des gisements d'or naturel en marchandises. Et nous mettons en évidence les relations et les réseaux par lesquels la main-d'œuvre extractive s'intègre dans le contexte local - notamment à travers des processus d'urbanisation tentaculaires. En somme, cette recherche comparative révélera les conditions dans lesquelles les frontières extractives se matérialisent dans des contextes où la marchandisation des ressources naturelles est souvent très contestée et ancrée de manière inégale dans les chaînes d'approvisionnement mondiales.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 10.08.2020

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Abstract

This research considers the question of artisan extractive labour in the context of Africa’s natural resource exploitation. By “extractive labour” we mean the commodified work that is put into obtaining value from ‘natural’ mineral deposits. Although, after years of neglect, attention has been called anew to the importance of mining labour and the way it is recruited, organised, put to use and valorised in this context, most scholarship to date tends to focus on fixed industrial production sites, notwithstanding its minor importance in terms of extractive labour. Considering that more than 40 million, often highly mobile and young workers worldwide are estimated to work in artisan and small-scale mining (ASM) , there arises a need to analyse their wider role. Next to the deserved attention that goes into global land grabbing and mineral value chains as part of contemporary capitalist frontiers (Tsing 2009; Werner et al. 2014), this project considers ASM labour a central feature of territorialising contemporary capitalist economies, notably through the way such labour is socially and spatially embedded. The proposed research will reveal more generally the central role that mobile, informal and highly precarious extractive work plays in making natural resources into commodities, focusing more specifically onto the ways it contributes to the territorialisation of natural resource extraction in comparable extractive assemblages (see also Tsing 2005; Ferguson 2015; Ferguson and Li 2018; Mezzadra and Neilson 2019). Specifically picking up the invitation to look at non-formalized, non-standardized work in this sector (Ferguson and Li 2018; cf. also 2.1. below), the project team will provide a continental, comparative analysis of artisan mining in Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe We will focus on gold extraction in Sub-Saharan Africa, both because it constitutes an area of expertise of the two co-applicants, and has unprecedented levels of annual production on this continent, including the countries where this research will focus (UNCTAD 2007, 35; Radley 2019). Starting from the premise that labour is “a relational and creative process enabling the production of value in people” (Calvão 2016, 461), we will probe the relations and networks through which extractive labour emerges in the African context, and the way these contribute to mining-related urbanisation. To do so we need to extend our view beyond labour and consider more widely what is meant by “work” (Comaroff and Comaroff 1987), which encompasses not only the political economic relations but also systems of meaning related to mining activity. The terms of artisan mining employment are largely informal and precarious, but not disorganised or random, and often hinge upon brokerage practices and logics that can help us understand the simultaneous rooting and routing of artisan mining workers and wealth that is invested in towns and cities. This project will examine these practices and logics as the social and spatial embeddedness of informal mobile work in the contexts where artisan mining gold is produced. In so doing this comparative research will reveal the conditions under which extractive frontiers literally “take place” (Côte and Korf 2018) in contexts where extraction is not univocally considered as contributing to legitimate economic development.
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