The browser you are using is not supported by this website. All versions of Internet Explorer are no longer supported, either by us or Microsoft (read more here:

Please use a modern browser to fully experience our website, such as the newest versions of Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari etc.

Inge-Merete Hougaard, photo.

Inge-Merete Hougaard

Postdoctoral Fellow

Inge-Merete Hougaard, photo.

Shifting sands : Legal dispossession of small-scale miners in an extractivist era


  • Inge Merete Hougaard
  • Irene Vélez-Torres

Summary, in English

This article argues that the entanglements of a growing global demand for construction material and neoliberal resource governance result in an incremental and piecemeal form of dispossession. While mining in Colombia has been broadly researched, little has been said about sand extraction and the challenges small-scale artisanal miners face when trying to formalise their activities. This article seeks to fill this gap by following a group of areneros (manual sand extractors) who attempt to defend their right to sand extraction against a competing mining claim. Drawn into the domain of the state, the areneros navigate a changing institutional setup and a complex legislation that favours the wealthy, the lettered and the connected. Political-economic interests are masked behind procedures, symbols and legal-administrative means, which create a ‘state effect’ and result in a subtle form of legal dispossession. The article points towards a scalar model of dispossession, in which small-scale mining activities pass through ‘small-scale intermediaries’ to end up in the hands of private corporate actors with capital and technical expertise to conduct large-scale extraction. The article adds to the limited literature on sand extraction and challenges the view that the activity is merely conducted by criminal actors; yet, it argues that subsistence mining is under threat by government and corporate interests, positioning sand extraction as a new resource frontier. As small-scale miners find themselves in the conflict between two competing rights regimes and two competing production logics, they are doubly stretched between proletarianization and eviction, criminalisation and self-erosion.


  • LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

Publishing year










Document type

Journal article




  • Human Geography


  • Afro-descendants
  • Legal dispossession
  • Recognition
  • Sand extraction
  • Small-scale mining
  • State-making




  • ISSN: 0016-7185