Though women all over the world toil as miners, and have done for centuries, mining is seen as a quintessentially masculine endeavour. Gendering the Field puts a definitive stop to the gender-blindness of such a view. We have Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, the editor and a contributor to this book, to thank for this corrective move. For many years Lahiri-Dutt has championed the cause of women in mining. She has challenged the preoccupation of minority world feminist scholarship with women living in mining communities and argued for more analysis of women working at the actual mine-site. Her interest in women in mining grew out of important research into artisanal small-scale mining on the coal fields of West Bengal. Here women to this day work with men scavenging for coal, wheeling it to market in improvised vehicles, living alongside their pits and conducting family life in the interstices of mine work. Such a world seems far from the large-scale mines that occupy a privileged place in the global imaginary. In our resource hungry world we are familiar with the huge excavators operated by well-paid men gouging out minerals, moving mountains and transforming landscapes in a matter of years. Or the construction of ever deeper underground mines where sophisticated computer models guide the operations of advanced
machinery ‘manned’ by fly-in/fly-out miners working 12 hour shifts. To this technology intensive, heroic, and above all masculine landscape Lahiri-Dutt has added a panorama of poor women and men using rudimentary tools to produce vast amounts of mineral output, outside the regulatory embrace of union organisation and health and safety laws. Exposés of the extent of this artisanal mining ‘industry’, such as those by Lahiri-Dutt for India, have forced a long overdue shift in international mining policy and planning.