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Gender, Development, and Domestic Geology


In recent decades, global environmental and development initiatives have paid increasing attention to the mining practices of artisanal and small scale gold miners, articulating their project goals under the rubrics of sustainable mining, gender equity, and environmental health. Development projects in Kenya have sought to increase the decision-making power of women in artisanal gold mining operations by providing some women with the educational resources, technologies, and capital to form cooperatives and produce, maintain, and run their own mine shafts. Despite the greater attention to gender within mining communities, women miners continue to be sidelined in discussions around resource distributions, mining practices, and the introduction of new technologies, further exacerbating their marginalization and ability to access ore in Kenya’s artisanal gold mines. Anthropologists, geographers, and scholars in allied fields have recently renewed interest in thinking with and through geology with recent calls to “domesticat[e] metals” by thinking about the geological as an extension of the domestic sphere, even at the site of extraction (Marston 2020). I argue that this approach yields insight into how intimate social and gendered relations carry over into the mines, shaping which women and under what conditions, they are able to access ore and how development initiatives seeking to improve gender equity and environmental health in artisanal gold mines act to (re)produce and solidify these distributions.


Jessica Worl is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Davidson. She is an anti-disciplinary scholar and teacher whose training is in the natural, social, and humanistic sciences has served me well in my research with informal gold mining communities in Kenya and East Africa. She draws on the multidisciplinary fields of political ecology, science and technology studies, and discard studies to examine how categories of legitimacy and legibility are produced and maintained through policies, programs, and everyday practices with implications for the kinds of risks that informal miners experience, as well as how informal miners are (un)able to manage, access, and/or control their resources.