Shifting sands: Legal dispossession of small-scale miners in an extractivist era

Inge Merete Hougaard, Irene Vélez-Torres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (SciVal)


This article argues that the entanglements of a growing global demand for construction material and neoliberal resource governance result in an incremental and piecemeal form of dispossession. While mining in Colombia has been broadly researched, little has been said about sand extraction and the challenges small-scale artisanal miners face when trying to formalise their activities. This article seeks to fill this gap by following a group of areneros (manual sand extractors) who attempt to defend their right to sand extraction against a competing mining claim. Drawn into the domain of the state, the areneros navigate a changing institutional setup and a complex legislation that favours the wealthy, the lettered and the connected. Political-economic interests are masked behind procedures, symbols and legal-administrative means, which create a ‘state effect’ and result in a subtle form of legal dispossession. The article points towards a scalar model of dispossession, in which small-scale mining activities pass through ‘small-scale intermediaries’ to end up in the hands of private corporate actors with capital and technical expertise to conduct large-scale extraction. The article adds to the limited literature on sand extraction and challenges the view that the activity is merely conducted by criminal actors; yet, it argues that subsistence mining is under threat by government and corporate interests, positioning sand extraction as a new resource frontier. As small-scale miners find themselves in the conflict between two competing rights regimes and two competing production logics, they are doubly stretched between proletarianization and eviction, criminalisation and self-erosion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-89
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Oct 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Human Geography


  • Afro-descendants
  • Legal dispossession
  • Recognition
  • Sand extraction
  • Small-scale mining
  • State-making


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