(Under)mining State Authority: The Politics of Informal Gold Mining in Bolivia and Peru
For decades, scholars and practitioners have discussed the effects of large-scale extractivism in the development of Latin American states. By contrast, little is known about the political impact of the extractivism of the poor – the artisanal and small-scale resource exploitation of key commodities, such as gold. This activity is commonly informal and is currently absorbing a great part of the labor force in the rural world. Conventional wisdom indicates that informal groups are apolitical or dispersed, and that the elite has the upper hand over key economic sectors. Under(mining) State Authority challenges this vision by showing how, in two radically different political and institutional contexts, small-scale gold miners compete against the state for resource control and manage to influence national mining policies. My argument is that they achieve their goals thanks to the development of informal governance systems with redistributive capacities in areas where the state does not rule. These systems have endowed informal groups with great power for collective action and favored alliances with local authorities, thus weakening the state’s overall power of action and giving the miners leverage to pressure for institutional changes from the bottom-up.
My study complexifies the understanding of the long-term impacts of extractivism, presents different types of state-society relations in developing nations and discusses how fragmentation within the state contributes to empowering state competitors. In practical terms, the book offers original evidence on the functioning of informal mining networks, current challenges of subnational governance and bottlenecks in the implementation of mining policy.
My work is based on more than 10 months of fieldwork in the largest gold mining communities in Bolivia and Peru. I draw on multi-sited ethnographies, interviews with leaders from mining associations and cooperatives, regional authorities, ministries, and a survey to 100 people.