Mineral Commons: Institutions and Contested Claims to Gold in Madagascar

Authors: Brian Ikaika Klein*, University of Michigan
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Natural Resources, Africa
Keywords: political ecology, artisanal and small-scale mining, governance, commons, institutions, territory, extractive industries, Madagascar, sub-Saharan Africa
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Enclosure of the commons and dissolution of collective resource management systems have long been understood and analyzed as essential (and contested) elements of both capitalist expansion and state territorialization. Generally, the common resources in question have tended to be those deemed “renewable.” Less consideration has been given to cases of commons in “exhaustible” resources, like minerals. Indeed, even as a growing number of scholars have analyzed conflicts over access to deposits and explicated local-level governance systems in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sites, state ownership of subsoil resources remains a foundational and largely unquestioned characteristic of the extractive sector across most countries. In this paper, I present evidence from northern Madagascar to demonstrate how Malagasy miners and mining communities contest state-corporate claims to subsoil ownership (and concomitant efforts to displace ASM operators in favor of corporate extractors) through the conceptualization and management of goldfields as what I term "mineral commons." Importantly, this is not to say that the diggings are naturally or inevitably commons. Rather, they have been produced as such over time and across space through the articulation of geological characteristics with historical, political-economic, socio-cultural conditions, processes, practices, and struggles. Examining the contingent circumstances under which Madagascar’s mineral commons and attendant governance institutions have emerged thus provides insight regarding the ways in which smallholder resource extractors have used local institutional production to resist enclosure and claim territory. At the same time, it reveals how state-corporate actors have sought to delegitimize, dismantle, and/or coopt these institutions to their own advantage.

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