American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
Gold is a highly malleable substance that goes across numbers of physical and legal transformations from the sites of extraction to the international markets where it is traded and consumed. The paper tracks artisanally mined gold from West Africa to Dubai through three key sites where it is melted and aggregated with new physical and legal qualities, namely fonderies, aggregators and refineries that respectively link relatively autonomous production segments while maintaining disconnected antagonist legal orders across trajectories of ownership. By eliciting the social and material work of “purification” at play in these sites, the paper unfolds the various meanings of the process in terms of transparency of gold integrity against international regulations and in terms of opacity of gold traceability against industry voluntary standards. Drawing on ethnographic work across networks of Malinké small and mid-scale traders, observations in melting sites, interviews and desk research, this contribution seeks to understand how contradictive expectations are reconciled, bypassed or overcome by the work of formal and informal industry actors in assembling gold at various scales. In so doing it informs on logics of invisibilisation of labour in the supply chain of artisanally mined gold and on the tensions and adaptations that cross-cut the industry in an era of accountability and due diligence.