Digging Women: Towards a New Agenda for Feminist Critiques of Mining


Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala. 2012. “Digging Women: Towards a New Agenda for Feminist Critiques of Mining.” Gender, Place & Culture 19 (2): 193–212. doi:10.1080/0966369X.2011.572433.

Author: Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt


This article addresses how a contemporary feminist perspective can problematise the ancient human endeavour of mining, and indicates which direction research on the interface between extractive industries and gender could usefully take. Feminist research has confronted masculinist discourses of mining by questioning the naturalisation of men as industrial workers, and by illustrating the gender-selective impacts of capitalist mining projects. The article probes the sources of these masculinist discourses of mining and reinterprets these critiques. Most importantly, by highlighting the diverse range of extractive practices that reflect different stages of surplus accumulation, it encourages a rethinking of mining itself as an area of feminine work. Finally, it makes tentative suggestions as to how the field of women and mining might be examined and addressed by contemporary feminists. A postcapitalist feminist critique of mining would hinge upon revealing women’s agency in mining and revisit the conventional definitions of mining as industrial work and begin to see the feminine livelihoods in mining.

Keywords: informal mining, gender, women, representations, mining technology, mining impacts



“I note that feminist critiques can deconstruct such essential masculinity by appreciating the enormous evidence of women’s agency – in their productive roles in mines and at home, and in their resistance to exploitations of mining. What I add to the feminist epistemology is a new way of looking at the mineral extractive practices, presenting mining as an informal, and highly feminine, economic endeavor.” (193)

“A feminist critique of technocentric, hyper-masculine mining cannot be based on women as victims, bearers of burdens of dislocations or daughters who might have dubious links with Mother Earth. My hope is to encourage feminist geographers to gaze critically not only at the miner, but also at mining through a ‘gender lens.’” (194)

“Technology-dependence in extractive industries is relevant to a feminist critique because a sexual division of labour is embedded in the way men and women work in factories… women and men participate in different spaces, and usually operate different ‘physical technologies’…. Sexual division of labor is justified as the natural complementarity of roles of women ad men, but is usually accompanied by a vertical sexual division of labour or a stratified division that concentrates women into the bottom strata, with discriminatory wages and poor working conditions.” (196)

“One sees that the masculinities of industrial mining practices are constructed in three main ways: through the symbolism of size and capital/technology; structure of the industry; and produced and reproduced identities.” (199)

“The concentration of women’s labour in this kind [artisanal small-scale] of mining reasserts current global trends in respect to women’s work and indicates that all mining is neither essentially corporatized nor always exploitative, no alienated from wider socio-political and economic forces changing rural economics in poorer countries. The numbers of women in ASM is high and on the rise.” (202)

“As liberalization and structural adjustment programmes set a model of development, they also fuel the uncontrolled growth of poverty-driven gold mining by marginalized and impoverished peasants. During the explosion of ASM in the post-reform Ghana economy, women have taken up ASK in large numbers to provide family subsistence. Consequently, women are overrepresented in informal mining; while women compromise around 15% of the legal small-scale metal mining labour force they form over 50% of the illegal, galampsey, miners.” (202)

Topics: Development, Economies, Extractive Industries, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Masculinism, Livelihoods

Year: 2012

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