"As we exploit the river, we should give something back": A moral ecology of sand extraction

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Sand is one of the most extracted materials in the world and a fundamental input for the construction sector. Currently, extraction rates exceed the natural rates of renewal locally and globally, why much literature on sand extraction focusses on environmental and social impacts. Sand extractors are often portrayed as external actors damaging local environments and communities, and limited attention has been granted to how sand extraction unfolds locally. Based on ethnographic research in western Colombia, this paper explores how manual sand extraction is conducted, organised and governed locally, its role in the local community, and how it relates to wider economic and political relations. Through the concept of moral ecology, I illustrate that manual sand extraction in the case is governed by notions of sustainability, reciprocity and solidarity. This ensures that extraction is done in a way that respects ecological cycles and contributes to the construction of community, proposing an alternative to environmentally and socially damaging ways of extraction. Nevertheless, the moral ecology of the dominant political-economic elites relies on notions of efficiency, legality and macro-economic responsibility. As long as these notions determine the terms of formalisation, the alternative form of extraction falls outside the legal framework.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101301
JournalThe Extractive Industries and Society
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2023

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