At present, I am Associate Professor at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology (Faculty of Social Sciences) at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam, where I have a position since 1992. I have also worked as a researcher at CEDLA (2011-2016), as visiting professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife (2001-2002), and as researcher at the Department of Anthropology of University Utrecht (1992-1993).
I have extended experience in building academic cooperation with South American research groups, as evidenced by the Paulo Freire Centre I directed until 2016 at the Vrije Universiteit, two CAPES-Nuffic programs I coordinated between 2008 and 2015 and a Twinning project (UTSN) with the Faculty of Maatschappijwetenschappen at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname that run 2008-2011.
Popular religion and politics in Northeast Brazil
My research career began working on 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. The year as visiting professor in Recife and a more recent CAPES/NUFFIC program on Transnational Religion (with UFRGS) are also projects in this line of research. I have supervised many Master and PhD candidates with topics related to it and I am still available for such research projects.
Brazilian migrants 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 Antino and Benzdorp mining sites in the Southeast of Suriname and have made many short trips to other mining areas in the country.
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 analysed from several perspectives, such as (1) the construction of prosperity, fortune, opportunity, and security, (2) localization of riches and land rights in the context of (seasonal) migration, national borders and regional integration, (3) notions of individuality and community in the organization of live in the gold fields (basic stability, trust, absence of state power, minimal features of the – temporal – society).
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 informal economy in the interior also brought other research questions to be addressed.
Small-scale gold mining and social conflict in the Amazon
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 small scale gold mining in the Amazon. Polluting activities of gold mining may threaten the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and the natural environment in general. Cross-border tensions arise when miners from one country move to another, or smuggle gold between countries. With techniques becoming more mechanized, the scale of the problems increased considerably in the past decade. See www.gomiam.org for more information on this research and policy project.
The small-scale mining sector in Brazil
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), https://www.projekt-consult.de/projects/Projekt_Consult_Project_2018_3890061.html. 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
Transformation to Sustainability
The GOMIAM experience recently 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 with 1,5 million euro by in the Norface – Belmont Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) program, to do research in East Africa, West Africa and Brazil/Guyana region. For more info, see: https://www.norface.net/program/transformations-to-sustainability/