Africa and the Nuclear World: Labor, Occupational Health, and the Transnational Production of Uranium” and “issue 5”

Africa and the Nuclear World: Labor, Occupational Health, and the Transnational Production of Uranium” and “issue 5?
write a paragraph and a multiple-choice question based on the article named”Africa and the Nuclear World: Labor, Occupational Health, and the Transnational Production of Uranium” and “issue 5”
write a paragraph and a multiple-choice question based on the article named”TAfrica and the Nuclear World: Labor, Occupational Health, and the Transnational Production of Uranium” and “issue 5”.
Africa and the Nuclear World:
Labor, Occupational Health, and the
Transnational Production of Uranium
GABRIELLE HECHT
Department of History, University of Michigan
What is Africa’s place in the nuclear world? In 1995, a U.S. government report
on nuclear proliferation did not mark Gabon, Niger, or Namibia as having any
“nuclear activities.”1 Yet these same nations accounted for over 25 percent of
world uranium production that year, and helped fuel nuclear power plants in
Europe, the United States, and Japan. Experts had long noted that workers in
uranium mines were “exposed to higher amounts of internal radiation
than . . . workers in any other segment of the nuclear energy industry.”2
What, then, does it mean for a workplace, a technology, or a nation to be
“nuclear?” What is at stake in that label, and how do such stakes vary by
time and place?
In both political and scientific discourse, an apparently immutable ontology
has long distinguished nuclear things from non-nuclear ones. The distinction
has seemed transparent, fixed, and incontrovertible—ultimately a matter of
fission and radioactivity. Scholarship on the history, culture, and politics of
the “nuclear age” has also assumed the self-evidence of “nuclear” things. No
one questions whether bombs and reactors are “nuclear,” even while bitter
battles rage over their political, military, or moral legitimacy.
Acknowledgments: My biggest debts are to Paul Edwards and Bruce Struminger for their many
contributions. Useful comments also came from Soraya Boudia, Geoff Eley, Kenneth Garner,
Michelle Murphy, Martha Poon, Christopher Sellers, Matthew Shindell, and the reviewers of this
journal, as well as audiences in Minneapolis, Toronto, Eindhoven, Stony Brook, San Diego, and
Madison.
1 Office of Technology Assessment, Nuclear Safeguards and the International Atomic Energy
Agency, OTA-ISS-615, Apr. 1995, App. B.
2 D. A. Holaday, “Some Unsolved Problems in Uranium Mining,” in, International Atomic
Energy Agency, International Labour Organisation, and World Health Organization, Radiological
Health and Safety in Mining and Milling of Nuclear Materials: Proceedings, vol. 1 (International
Atomic Energy Agency, 1964), 51.
Comparative Studies in Society and History 2009;51(4):896–926.
0010-4175/09 $15.00 # Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History, 2009
doi:10.1017/S001041750999017X
896
Beyond these clear-cut cases, however, the category of the “nuclear” has
never been defined by purely technical parameters. Like other master categories
that claim global purview, the “nuclear” both inscribes and enacts politics of
inclusion and exclusion. Neither technical function nor radiation sufficed to
make African nations and their mines “nuclear” in geopolitical terms. Such outcomes,
I have suggested elsewhere, were closely tied to the political economy
of the nuclear industry, with profound consequences for the legal and illegal
circulation of uranium and other radioactive materials and for the global institutions
and treaties governing nuclear systems.3 Here, I argue that the historical
and geographical contingencies affecting the “nuclear” as a category have also
had significant consequences for the lives and health of mineworkers. I focus
on African uranium miners, whose labor has fueled atomic weapons and
nuclear reactors around the world for over six decades. That these people
have been ignored both in histories of the nuclear age and by Africanists
speaks to mutually reinforcing assumptions about Africa’s place, and lack of
place, in a highly technological world. Challenging such assumptions requires
that we enter that world via its technologies.
The essay thus explores the nuclear world in Africa, and Africa in the nuclear
world.4 I identify three moments of global imperception in the making and
legitimation of knowledge on radiation hazards: moments when African
people and workplaces went unaccounted for in “global” scientific knowledge
production. (“Global,” here, refers above all to the aims and claims of knowledge
producers.5) I juxtapose these moments with three uranium histories, situated
in Madagascar, Gabon, and South Africa, which analyze the labor
arrangements and regimes of perceptibility that produced such global imperceptions.
The production and dissolution of nuclear things in African places,
I argue, occurred in the friction between the transnational politics of knowledge
and (post)colonial power, between abstract prescriptions and embodied, instrumentalized
practices. Radiation infiltrated workers’ bodies; sometimes,
however, it also opened political possibilities.6
3 Gabrielle Hecht, “Nuclear Ontologies,” Constellations 13, 3 (Sept. 2006): 320–31; and
“Negotiating Global Nuclearities: Apartheid, Decolonization, and the Cold War in the Making of
the IAEA,” in John Krige and Kai-Henrik Barth, eds., “Global Power Knowledge: Science, Technology,
and International Affairs,” special issue of Osiris 21 (July 2006): 25–48.
4 For broader debates, see Jean-Franc¸ois Bayart, “Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion,”
African Affairs 99 (2000): 217–67.
5 I draw inspiration here from Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge,
History (University of California Press, 2005); James Ferguson, Global Shadows: Africa in the
Neoliberal World Order (Duke University Press, 2006); Geoff Eley, “Historicizing the Global, Politicizing
Capital: Giving the Present a Name,” History Workshop Journal 63 (2007): 156–88;
Antoinette Burton. “Not Even Remotely Global? Method and Scale in World History,” History
Workshop Journal 64 (2007): 323–28.
6 In this and other ways, we might think of radiation as “imperial debris”; see Ann Laura Stoler,
“Imperial Debris: Reflections on Ruin and Ruination,” Cultural Anthropology 23, 2: 191–219.
A F R I C A A N D T H E N U C L E A R W O R L D 897
My core premise is that uranium mines are not born nuclear, in part because
the “nuclear” is not merely about radiation. Instead, I treat the nuclear as a
highly contingent technopolitical product of historical circumstances. Before
attending to my main argument, let me explain what this means by surveying
what I call “nuclear exceptionalism” and briefly discussing a few key concepts.
N U C L E A R E X C E P T I O N A L I SM
In the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the grip of atomic bombs on
global imaginaries derived strength through assertions of exceptionalism. Proponents
and opponents alike portrayed nuclear weapons as fundamentally
different from any other human creation by virtue of their apocalyptic potential.
As discourse, nuclear exceptionalism spanned spatial and temporal scales. On a
micro scale, fission—the physical process that powered atomic bombs—meant
splitting atoms. This deliberate rupture of nature’s building blocks propelled
claims to a corresponding, macro-scale rupture in historical time: the
“nuclear age.” Geopolitical status became proportional to atomic weapons
capacity. Nuclear nationalism in Britain and France allayed anxieties about
the loss of empire and U.S. imperialism, while in India it promised a postcolonial
reordering of global power.7 Even for states that did not aspire to atomic
weapons, nuclear energy could symbolize the zenith of modernity. Anti-nuclear
movements, meanwhile, also engaged in nuclear exceptionalism by highlighting
the dangers posed by human-made radioactivity, dangers unprecedented
in their longevity and scope. Nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island and
Chernobyl came to symbolize the nadir of modernity. Morality-talk further
magnified the stakes of exceptionalist assertions, depicting nuclear things as
salvation or depravity.
Yet nuclear exceptionalism went well beyond rhetoric—it was materialized
in objects, systems, and practices. It depended on sophisticated marshalling of
scientific knowledge, technologies of measurement and control, institutions,
social networks, imagery, and more. It needed national and international
atomic energy agencies, which built new systems of financing and accountability
for nuclear endeavors, separate from other governance institutions. It relied
on disciplines such as health physics, whose very epistemology was predicated
on isolating radiation from other health hazards. It required instruments such as
dosimeters, which measured radiation in people, and Geiger counters, which
measured radiation in places. And it thrived on the countless articles,
movies, novels, and images that came to constitute “atomic culture.”8 As the
7 Gabrielle Hecht, The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World
War II (MIT Press, 1998); Itty Abraham, The Making of the Indian Atomic Bomb: Science,
Secrecy and the Postcolonial State (Zed Books and St. Martin’s Press, 1998).
8 There is a range of scholarship on these themes: M. Susan Lindee, Suffering Made Real: American
Science and the Survivors at Hiroshima (University of Chicago Press, 1994); John Krige, “The
Peaceful Atom as Political Weapon: Euratom and American Foreign Policy in the Late 1950s,”
898 G A B R I E L L E H E C H T
alliances among (and within) such formations of power varied across time and
place, so too did the effectiveness of nuclear exceptionalism, and indeed the
very meaning and material substance of the “nuclear.”
This, then, is why I refer to the nuclear as a technopolitical outcome of historical
processes. Politics shape its technologies, but its technologies also shape
its politics. Materiality matters tremendously. Enough atomic explosions really
can destroy the planet; radiation exposure really can cause cancer. But as countless
works in science and technology studies have shown, material realities
emerge from complex networks in which the social and the technical are inseparably
intertwined.9 In the domain of occupational exposures, for example,
instruments, labor relations, scientific disciplines, expert controversy, and lay
knowledge combine to create what Michelle Murphy has called “regimes of
perceptibility”—assemblages of social and technical things that make certain
hazards and health effects visible, and others invisible.10 Here I put
Murphy’s concept in dialogue with Anna Tsing’s notion of “friction,” a metaphor
for the creative and destructive power generated by universal aspirations
as they travel along changing axes of inequality.11 The notion of friction
calls attention to the unevenness with which knowledge travels, the
always-local circumstances that change its content along the way, and the
material consequences of its motion. Regimes of perceptibility in African
uranium mines, I argue, emerged from the friction between universalizing
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 38, 1 (2008): 9–48; Itty Abraham, “The Ambivalence of
Nuclear Histories,” in John Krige and Kai-Henrik Barth, eds., “Global Power Knowledge: Science,
Technology, and International Affairs,” special issue of Osiris 21 (July 2006): 49–65; Joseph
Masco, The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton
University Press, 2006); Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture
at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Pantheon Books, 1985); SpencerWeart, Nuclear Fear: A History of
Images (Harvard University Press, 1988).
9 For a more extended discussion of technopolitics, see Hecht, Radiance of France. Other works
that explore these themes include: Donald A. Mackenzie, Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology
of Nuclear Missile Guidance (MIT Press, 1990); Wiebe E. Bijker, Of Bicycles, Bakelite,
and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change (MIT Press, 1997); Bruno Latour, Reassembling
the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford University Press, 2005);
Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-politics, Modernity (University of California
Press, 2002).
10 Michelle Murphy, Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental
Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers (Duke University Press, 2006). For how such
issues relate to radiation exposure, see Adriana Petryna, Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after
Chernobyl (Princeton University Press, 2002). For exploration of “historical ontology” in relation
to occupational and environmental health debates, see Christopher Sellers, “The Artificial Nature of
FluoridatedWater: Between Nations, Knowledge, and Material Flows,” in Gregg Mitman, Michelle
Murphy, and Christopher Sellers, eds., “Landscapes of Exposure: Knowledge and Illness in Modern
Environments,” Osiris 19 (2004): 182–200; as well as other contributions to that special issue. See
also Christopher Sellers, Hazards of the Job: From Industrial Disease to Environmental Health
Science (University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
11 Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (Princeton University
Press, 2005).
A F R I C A A N D T H E N U C L E A R W O R L D 899
claims to, or denial of, nuclearity and particular imperial histories, with consequences
for occupational exposures, their legibility, and workers’ changing political
options.
Consider a question that deeply concerned some of the people who appear in
this essay: does exposure to radon gas cause cancer? Uranium atoms decay into
radon, which in turn decays into other elements known as its “daughters.”
These decays release radioactive alpha particles, which miners inhale. Determining
causality via accepted scientific practice demands isolating the effects
of radon exposure—deciding whether illness in uranium miners comes only
from radon exposure, or also from other contaminants. There is also the question
of deciding what constitutes a radiation effect. Lung cancer? Genetic
mutations? Epidemiologists and geneticists respond differently. When do
“effects” occur? Is lung cancer thirty years after the victim’s last exposure an
“effect”? Labor lawyers and mining corporations offer different answers.
Regardless of perspective, all these questions ultimately required knowing
how much radiation mineworkers absorb. Before the 1980s, personal
dosimetry—giving each worker a film badge or a dosimeter pen—only
detected the external exposures produced by gamma rays emitted by radioactive
rocks. Such instruments did not detect the alpha radiation emitted by
inhaled radon daughters. In many places, mine managers also feared personal
dosimetry would scare workers by alerting them to an otherwise invisible
danger. Ambient dosimetry could accommodate the heavier instruments
required to “capture” radon daughters. Less personally intrusive, it involved
installing instruments throughout the mine and averaging out their readings.
But averages did not account for the experience of men assigned to “hot
spots”: spots far from air intakes, where reduced ventilation meant elevated
radon-daughter levels and higher temperatures—the kind of place where, for
example, white foremen stationed black workers in South African mines.
The scientific (and apparently presentist and delocalized) question of
causality—“does radon cause cancer?”—is thus also, always, a historical and
geographical question. It has no single, abstract answer above and beyond
the politics of expert controversy, labor organization, capitalist production,
or colonial difference and history. That answers depend on the friction
between these, however, is only visible at the technopolitical margins of
nuclearity.12
G L O B A L IMP E R C E P T I O N S , I
In 1963, at the first international conference on “Radiological Health and Safety
in Mining and Milling of Nuclear Materials,” in Vienna, Duncan Holaday of
12 As one reviewer was kind enough to point out, this point resonates strongly with the argument
made by the editors and contributors in Veena Das and Deborah Poole, eds., Anthropology at the
Margins of the State (School of American Research Press, 2004).
900 G A B R I E L L E H E C H T
the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) reported on early results from his study of
radon exposure in U.S. uranium miners. He framed his remarks like this:
“Among workers in the nuclear energy industry, uranium miners constitute a
unique group, in that the effects of exposure to excessive amounts of radon
and its daughters were observed and studied long before the fission of
uranium was discovered. As a group, they are exposed to higher amounts of
internal radiation than are workers in any other segment of the nuclear
energy industry.”13 Holaday’s audience, specialists on radiological exposure
from twenty-four countries and five international organizations, probably
found this statement unremarkable. They all knew about studies from the
early twentieth century showing high incidence of lung cancer among Czech
radium/uranium miners. In the historical context of struggles to regulate
radon levels in American uranium mines, however, two things stand out:
first, Holaday’s alignment of uranium miners with other nuclear workers,
instead of with other miners; and second, his insistence that these miners
were more vulnerable to radiation exposure than any other nuclear worker.
The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) did not officially accept either
of these premises in the 1960s. From a legal standpoint, digging uranium ore
out of U.S. soil did not count as a nuclear activity until much later.
Created in 1946, the AEC immediately fostered a massive uranium boom by
offering monetary rewards for ore strikes. In response, prospectors and small
mining consortia dug hundreds of mines on the Colorado Plateau. They sold
their ore to the AEC, the sole legal purchaser and consumer. But when AEC
scientists and others began expressing concern about miners’ radiation
exposure, the agency refused to accept regulatory responsibility. Using arguments
that would be echoed decades later by the South African Chamber of
Mines, it insisted that uranium mines fell under the ordinary jurisdiction of
state and federal agencies rather than the special, nuclear provisions of the
Atomic Energy Act. The AEC delegated the task of regulating radon levels
to state regulators, the PHS, and other federal agencies, none of which had sufficient
expertise, infrastructure, or authority to implement or enforce standards.
Some mine operators voluntarily upgraded their ventilation systems to decrease
radon exposure, but many did not. After bitter jurisdictional battles, a nationwide
exposure standard finally passed in 1967, but several more years
elapsed before it became enforceable. Dozens of former miners died from
lung cancer and other diseases as a result of their exposures.14 Lawsuits
13 Holaday, “Some Unsolved Problems,” 51.
14 Peter H. Eichstaedt, If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans (Red Crane Books,
1994); Robert Proctor, Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes what We Know and Don’t Know
about Cancer (Basic Books, 1995); Valerie Kuletz, The Tainted Desert: Environmental Ruin in
the American West (Routledge, 1998); J. SamuelWalker, Containing the Atom: Nuclear Regulation
in a Changing Environment, 1963–1971 (University of California Press, 1992).
A F R I C A A N D T H E N U C L E A R W O R L D 901
against the federal government failed to win compensation for miners and their
families. In 1990, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act finally made
uranium miners from the early Cold War era eligible for “compassionate payments,”
in recognition of their contributions to U.S. national security, provided
they could prove via medical tests and administrative histories that they had
acquired a radiation-related illness. Only then did U.S. uranium mining
become uncontestedly nuclear work.
Holaday’s insistence on the nuclearity of uranium mining may have reflected
the contested status of U.S. mines in 1963, but to French members of his audience
in Vienna he had only stated the obvious. The Commissariat a` l’Energie
Atomique (CEA) had taken such nuclearity for granted from its inception. It
monitored all manner of radiation in French uranium mines itself, with the
same labs and equipment used in reactors and other “nuclear” workplaces.
CEA experts had presented their first miner-exposure data five years earlier,
at a 1958 Geneva conference on peaceful uses of atomic energy. By contrast
to the U.S. AEC, French papers in Geneva and Vienna blared out nuclearity.
They described in painstaking detail how CEA experts set maximum permissible
levels, measured radon and radiation, and tracked exposures for each
worker, presenting images of dosimeters, film badges, and the iconic lead-lined
suits worn to work in highly radioactive environments.
The CEA had configured the nuclearity of French uranium mines by turning
radiation and radon into objects of exceptional workplace control. Dosimetry—
calculating the radiation dose absorbed by people—formed the core of this configuration.
In 1962, the CEA had amassed thirty-five thousand radon samples,
compared to the PHS’s six thousand.15 While the PHS measured only alpha
radiation emitted by radon, the CEA also measured gamma radiation emitted
by rocks; to this end, miners (like reactor workers) wore dosimeter pens or
film badges.16 CEA radiation protection experts emphasized their “exceptional
policing role,” which (at least in principle) gave them hierarchical power over
mine superintendents whenever they found exposures in excess of maximum
permissible levels.17 By contrast, PHS scientists took measurements under
15 F. Duhamel, M. Beulaygue, and J. Pradel, “Organisation du controˆle radiologique dans les
mines d’uranium franc¸aises,” 63; and D. A. Holaday and H. N. Doyle, “Environmental Studies
in the Uranium Mines,” 19; both in: International Atomic Energy Agency, International Labour
Organisation, and World Health Organization, Radiological Health and Safety in Mining and
Milling of Nuclear Materials: Proceedings, vol. 1 (International Atomic Energy Agency, 1964).
16 D. Mechali and J. Pradel, “Evaluation de l’irradiation externe et de la contamination interne
des travailleurs dans les mines d’uranium franc¸aises,” in, International Atomic Energy Agency,
International Labour Organisation, and World Health Organization, Radiological Health and
Safety in Mining and Milling of Nuclear Materials: Proceedings, vol. 1 (International Atomic
Energy Agency, 1964): 373.
17 Robert Avril et al., “Measures Adopted in French Uranium Mines to Ensure Protection of Personnel
against the Hazards of Radioactivity,” in Proceedings of the Second United Nations International
Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Held in Geneva, 1–13 September
1958, Vol. 21: Health and Safety: Dosimetry and Standards (United Nations, 1985), 63.
902 G A B R I E L L E H E C H T
the sufferance of mine operators, and only after agreeing not to inform miners
about their purpose. In France, dosimetry conferred social power on a new class
of experts, turning uranium mineshafts into nuclear workplaces. Dosimetric
results legitimated and extended that power; in 1958 the radiation protection
division proudly declared, “There has not been one instance of over-exposure.”
As proof, it provided the quantities of radon inhaled by mine personnel in each
of the “mining divisions in Metropolitan France.”18
Decades later, interviews with former French uranium miners suggest that
especially at first, radiation monitoring practices were unevenly implemented.
Workers remember early mineshafts with little ventilation, and places that made
the needles on their dosimeters fly instantly off the scale. Working conditions
quickly became the focus of labor union demands. By the early 1960s, French
miners had their own version of what made their work nuclear, and made their
own set of demands based on that nuclearity.19 Unsurprisingly, conference presentations
by the CEA’s radiation protection division did not discuss these alternate
productions of nuclearity. Here, however, I call attention to another
absence, lurking in the reference to metropolitan France.
AMB AT OMI K A , S O U T H E R N MA D A G A S C A R , 1950S – 1960S
From the mid-1950s onward, CEA radiation protection experts published a
steady stream of papers on their exposure-monitoring programs in uranium
mines. None of these, however, included data from CEA-owned mines
outside the metropole. The first of these mines to produce significant quantities
of uranium were open-cast quarries of uranothorianite ore in the Androy desert
in southern Madagascar. Launched in 1953, when Madagascar was still under
French colonial rule, these operations were considerably more rudimentary
than metropolitan mines. Run by a dozen or so French geologists, metallurgists,
and mining engineers, they often could not pay for themselves. Dedicated radiation
protection experts did not figure in their budgets. In the metropole the
nuclearity of uranium mines may have seemed self-evident, but in Madagascar
it remained as fractured and lumpy as the rocks that emerged from the quarries.
Expatriates saw their work as nuclear because it fed their nation’s atomic
energy program. The tricolor French flag flying over the central camp reaffirmed
this, as did yearly trips home where talk and images of reactors and
atom bombs enabled them to visualize their contribution to the “radiance of
France.”20 Visions of reactors and bombs did not, however, transfix Tandroy
18 Ibid.
19 Philippe Brunet does an excellent job analyzing this history in his book, La nature dans tous
ses e´tats: Uranium, nucle´aire et radioactivite´ en Limousin (Presses Universitaires de Limoges,
2004).
20 Robert Bodu, “Compte-rendu de mission a` Madagascar,” Direction des Recherches et Exploitations
Minie`res, Mars 1960, Coge´ma archives, accessed 1998 and 2000; Hecht, Radiance of
France.
A F R I C A A N D T H E N U C L E A R W O R L D 903
or Betsileo mineworkers. The former miners and mill workers I spoke with in
1998 knew neither the purpose of their ore nor the existence of reactors and
bombs. When I explained, they laughed and shook their heads. “You crazy
vazahas [white foreigners],” said one man. “Why do you want this stuff?”21
Another, thinking of the region’s recently opened sapphire mines (where my
translator sometimes worked), shrewdly asked what sapphires were used
for.22 In their eyes, I was just another foreigner interested in rocks.
The time of vatovy (the local term for uranium ore) was indeed exceptional
for the Tandroy who lived through it, but that exceptionalism had little to do
with radiation, or with things that their French supervisors considered
nuclear. It had a lot to do with value, especially wages, and the investments
and business opportunities that they made possible. Fanahia worked in the
mines for thirteen years. “I bought 50 zebu [cattle],” he said, “and a
bicycle . . . and a cart, and a radio, and a watch that I ordered from
France. . . . I did some trading in watches. I would order them from Besanc¸on
and resell them to other men who worked with the vatovy.”23 Above all, vatovy
exceptionalism had to do with the arduous task of breaking rocks with jackhammers,
and the backbreaking work of loading rocks into wooden carts. Mahata
worked in the quarries with his father and two brothers, until his father fell on a
pneumatic drill and lost a leg. “We tell our children, you must guard the zebu carefully,
because the work we did to get them was painful.We broke our legs and our
feet doing that. So the zebu that are there must be well guarded. Because you, you
aren’t able to do that hard work. . . . Better to guard the zebu than to work
there.”24 Tales of rock slides and lost body parts abounded.
Radiation was not totally absent from Tandroy memories, but it appeared
indirectly: nested in needles, displaced into dosimeters, yoked to discipline,
and merged with medical monitoring. Some workers, for example, used
Geiger counters on a daily basis, to sort rocks into “good and bad piles.”25
21 Author’s interview with Mahata, Tsilamaha, Madagascar, 16 Aug. 1998. Interviews with
Tandroy and Betsileo mineworkers were conducted with the aid of translators M. Abdoulhamide
and Georges Heurtebize. Quotations that appear in italics indicate the words of the interviewee
as related by the translators; insertion of the first person is mine, and replaces the translators’ use
of the third person.
22 Author’s interviews with Fanahia and Itirik, Andolobe´, Madagascar, 13 and 14 Aug. 1998;
translator: M. Abdoulhamide. Although I did not know it at the time, such questions had their
obverse in northern Madagascar, where miners speculated that sapphires were used in bombs.
See AndrewWalsh, “In theWake of Things: Speculating in and about Sapphires in Northern Madagascar,”
American Anthropologist 106, 2 (2004): 225–37.
23 Fanahia interviews, op. cit. Such investments strategies contrast with the “daring consumption”
that Andrew Walsh describes for some young men working in the 1990s in the sapphiremining
town of Ambondromifehy, in “ ‘Hot Money’ and Daring Consumption in a Northern Malagasy
Sapphire-Mining Town,” American Ethnologist 30, 2 (2003): 290–305. The people I interviewed
were, necessarily, long-term inhabitants of the region with deep social networks that
bolstered and justified such investments; I do not know how migrant workers spent their wages.
24 Mahata interview, op. cit.
25 Fanahia interview, op. cit.
904 G A B R I E L L E H E C H T
The needle on the counter told the whole story: “When there is vatovy, the
needle goes to 500 or higher.”26 The presence of vatovy—unmediated by