American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
In recent years, a number of NGO-reports have drawn attention to how ‘illegal’ or ‘dirty’ gold from artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) finds its ways into global gold trading circuits. Yet the intricate ways in which (mostly informal) ASGM is integrated into global gold markets, and who stands to benefit from this integration, have not received adequate attention in the academic literature. In an attempt to fill this void, this paper starts by documenting the transit of informal gold from the local to the global sphere using the case of informal/illegal ASGM in Colombia. It identifies how the purportedly ‘informal’ gold trade is shaped by (sub-)national legal frameworks. More precisely, the expansion of ASGM has gone hand in hand with the emergence of highly complex legal frameworks replete with institutional gaps. In this environment, entrepreneurial actors with political and economic power succeed in instrumentalizing the divide between legal and illegal in order to reap benefits from the informal gold trade. To account for this situation, the paper dwells into the concept of a-legality, questioning the primacy of legal boundaries over behavior and revealing the capacity of behavior to draw a-legal boundaries within this context.