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Reviewed by:
  • Between the Plough and the Pick: Informal, Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in the Contemporary World ed. by Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
  • Josephine L. Savarese (bio)
Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, ed, Between the Plough and the Pick: Informal, Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in the Contemporary World (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2018)

The 2018 edited collection Between the Plough and the Pick: Informal, Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in the Contemporary World provides a thorough investigation into informal, artisanal, and small-scale mining (ASM). Inspired by several decades of field and scholarly research in India, the editor, Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, joins with other scholars to expose an "untidy and chaotic world" that operates outside of the policies and practices in the formal industrialized mining world.1 The result is an in-depth and thought-provoking investigation into the extractivism performed by some of the world's most impoverished persons. In addition to exposing extremely precarious working conditions, the writings demonstrate regard and respect for those employed in this under-theorized and often invisible work.

Among its inviting features is the well-designed and visually appealing front cover.2 The photograph shows a young woman gripping the railing of a steep, rickety bamboo staircase. A large cone-shaped basket is secured on her back by a harness that extends from a leather strap placed on her forehead, over her grey headscarf, to the knotted ropes tying the basket's tip at her lower back. The photograph speaks to the arduous and precarious nature of the work. The young woman's basket is full and brimming over, a tribute to the industry of the workers, and a symbol of the world's seemingly insatiable drive for resources. The unidentified product in the basket, which appears to be chunks of gold, is suggestive of the mysteries and conundrums of the precarious labour the text explores. In addition to the introduction and postscript, there are sixteen chapters written by various international scholars. The chapters take readers on a journey that covers the globe from Asia to Africa and Latin America. In the postscript, Lahiri-Dutt invites readers to recognize the "wide ground" covered by the fifteen contributors, with many setting out "new paths" and outlining "new dimensions" to enhance thinking "about informal mining in the contemporary world."3 [End Page 183]

The book is divided into three sections: (1) Historical Antecedents and Value Making; (2) Precarious and Gendered Labour; and (3) Conflicts and Governance. The second section on precarious and gendered labour may be of particular interest to readers of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law. The section begins with a theoretical overview of transit labour written by Ranabir Samaddar, director of the Calcutta Research Group. Drawing from Marxist theory, Samaddar states that labour, particularly transit labour, is the "ultimate commodity chain."4 Subsequent chapters investigate themes around small-scale mining in Papua New Guinea, the mining of coloured gemstones, particularly sapphires in Madagascar, and gold processing in the Philippines. Refreshing aspects of this section are that the chapters collectively emphasize the importance of women's voices as informants, the need to avoid overly simplistic narratives regarding women's roles, and the opportunities for reform that exist in this sector. For example, in Chapter 7, "A Good Business or a Risky Business: Health, Safety and Quality of Life for Women Small-Scale Miners in PNG," Danellie Lynas from the University of Queensland sets out a "possible way forward" or a clear action plan based on qualitative interviews.5 As Lynas states, the interviews provided a means to obtain "valuable insight and information" that could inform "targeted training programs" to assist women to "better understand and manage health and safety issues that affect them and their families."6 The women reasoned that better information on safer practices and other related topics would improve their quality of life. The second section ends with an examination of artisanal mining towns in eastern Congo. In their evocative text, Rachel Perks, Jocelyn Kelly, Stacie Constantian,and Phuong Pham address gender and human rights in the context of resilience.7

This collection is successful in realizing its goal of promoting a "deeper understanding of a fluid, marginal...


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pp. 183-186
Launched on MUSE
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