This dissertation undertakes an ethnography of gold in the Chocó department of northwest Colombia. It answers this question: What is gold about if it is not just about gold? The dissertation does not offer one answer, but rather shows various ways to understand gold in the Chocó. It examines artisanal, small-scale, and large-scale gold mining to show gold is part of a fixed subsistence livelihood economy, a hustle—or rebusque—economy, and economic fictions on the frontier through money laundering and speculation via small-scale, and, tentatively, large-scale gold mining. Gold is the thread
that connects the dissertation’s discussion of artisanal mining and the subsistence livelihood practices of rural Afro-descendant people; mine talk and mine practice; the epistemological difficulty and ambiguities of knowing in context of conflict; the hustle of paisas, or white outsiders from other regions of Colombia; migration and displacement to and from the Chocó; frontiers, the state, and collective territory; small-scale gold mining and the hustle; gold and its role in money laundering; multinational mining corporations on collective territories; Afro-descendant organizations and the
process of prior consultation; speculation and money laundering; and the political and environmental effects of small-scale and artisanal mining for Afro-descendant communities. The dissertation explores gold from its material extraction in mining to its connections with different economies. Eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, gold mining apprenticeship, and investigative analysis constitute the dissertation’s methods.