In my academic research, I focus on the cultural, social, economic, and environmental aspects of small-scale gold mining in the Amazon region, especially in Brazil and the Guianas, but also in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. In Suriname and French Guiana, I work with the Brazilian migrant miners and the Aluku and Ndjuka maroon population in the gold fields. Recently, I have started research in Ghana, as part of a collaborative project, and on cross border results of the Venezuelan crisis.
I have also done policy-oriented work on middle and small-scale mining (gems, gold, aggregates) in Brazil, the routes of illegally mined gold in the Guianas, fair mined gold in Bolivia and environmental regulation for small-scale gold mining in Suriname.
In 2004, I started anthropological research among Brazilian migrants in Suriname, soon to find out that the main attraction of the country were the gold deposits in the Guiana Shield. This was the start of a new line of research to be developed, as small-scale gold mining became the central focus of my investigation.
Since 2006 I conducted extensive anthropological fieldwork in mining sites in the Southeast of Suriname and have made many short trips to neighboring areas and countries. The gold rush in Suriname involves thousands of Brazilians, local indigenous and maroon people, and Surinamese entrepreneurs from the city. Periodically foreign and large capital owning companies are also entering. In this research the dynamics of the interplay between all the actors engaged in the gold prospecting and extraction is analyzed from several perspectives, such as the localization of riches and land rights in the context of migration, national borders and regional integration, and notions of individuality and community in the organization of life in the gold fields.
Over the years my work with gold mining developed in several directions. The focus on Brazilian migrant miners was broadened to include maroon miners and the interaction between local maroon and indigenous populations, who are sometimes miners themselves, and the migrant miners. The arrival of urban businessmen and foreign junior exploration companies led to new social dynamics in the field. And the attempts of the national authorities to control the mining economy also brought other research questions to be addressed.
Currently, I work with a Brazilian team in a comparative project where we question how gold mining practices are embedded in processes of Amazonian frontier territorialisation, and what this means for thinking on transformations to sustainability within environment, economy and community. We also explore how gold dynamics emerge from the materiality of gold, and the impact of mining on governance and human wellbeing.
A new line of research I work on with Eva van Roekel concerns alternative economic and mobility processes in northern Brazil and the Guianas, including in the situation of protracted conflict and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
The work on small-scale gold mining led to the comparative Amazon wide GOMIAM Project funded by WOTRO (2011-2016). The full name of the project is Small-scale gold mining and social conflict in the Amazon: Comparing states, environments, local populations and miners in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Suriname. It focused on environmental problems and socio-political conflicts resulting from polluting activities of gold mining that threaten the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and the natural environment in general, on cross-border tensions when miners from one country move to another or smuggle gold between countries, among other more localized issues. With techniques becoming more mechanized, the scale of the problems increased considerably in the past decade. See https://www.gomiam.org/ for more information on this research and policy project.
The international GOMIAM experience found a follow-up with the ST-ASGM project that I developed with colleagues from Reading, São Paulo, Campinas, Hamburg, Uppsala, Ouagadougou and Leiden. It was awarded 1,5 million euro by in the Norface – Belmont Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) program, to do research on transformations to sustainability in small scale gold mining in East Africa, West Africa and Brazil/Guyana region. Taking a transformative approach to sustainability is an opportunity to ask what futures are possible in ASGM, critically scrutinizing the character of change and assumptions about what change is possible. Considering gold as vital matter, an emphasis on materiality within the in-depth geopolitics of gold mining gives a means to re-vision sustainable futures. A multi-actor approach is deployed, with comparative analysis across sites in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa. For more info, see: http://gold-matters.org/
Between April 2016 and April 2018 I spent most of my time in Brazil, working on a project commissioned by the Ministry of Mining and Energy and Worldbank with a team of researchers from Projekt Consult (Germany). We made a technical, legal, economic and socio-cultural inventory of the small-scale mining sector in Brazil, in which my main contribution consisted of five field studies on gold, gems and construction materials. More information about this project can be found on the website of the ministry http://www.mme.gov.br/web/guest/projetos/meta/apresentacao
My research career began working on quite different topics: Catholicism, social movements, popular religion, democratization, gender and development and I spent many years in Brazil conducting research. For my PhD thesis I lived 18 months (between 1989-1991) in Garanhuns, Pernambuco, to study liberationist Catholicism. I worked a year as visiting professor in Recife (2001) and coordinated a CAPES/NUFFIC program on Transnational Religion (with UFRGS), which are in this line of research. I have supervised many Master and PhD candidates with topics related to religion, social movements and democratization and I am still available for such research projects. Projects on mining, cultural, economic and technological aspects of natural resourse extraction and use, related migration, and sustainability more broadly interest me most.