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The Eyes of the World focuses on the lives and experiences of Eastern Congolese people involved in extracting and transporting the minerals needed for digital devices.
The digital devices that, many would argue, define this era exist not only because of Silicon Valley innovations but also because of a burgeoning trade in dense, artisanally mined substances like tantalum, tin, and tungsten. In the tentatively postwar Eastern DR Congo, where many lives have been reoriented around artisanal mining, these minerals are socially dense, fueling movement and innovative collaborations that encompass diverse actors, geographies, temporalities, and dimensions. Focusing on the miners and traders of some of these “digital minerals,” The Eyes of the World examines how Eastern Congolese understand the work in which they are engaged, the forces pitted against them, and the complicated process through which substances in the earth and forest are converted into commodified resources. Smith shows how violent dispossession has fueled a bottom-up social theory that valorizes movement and collaboration—one that directly confronts both private mining companies and the tracking initiatives implemented by international companies aspiring to ensure that the minerals in digital devices are purified of blood.
About the Author
James H. Smith is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Bewitching Development, published by the University of Chicago Press, and coauthor of Email from Ngeti.
"The Eyes of the World is a groundbreaking, brilliantly written book about Congo’s place in the global economy. Smith places artisanal miners of coltan at the center of his study. Contrary to most popular views of the Congolese as victims of global corporations and brutal state authorities, miners recognize their value as experienced workers who often can protect their interests. . . . Smith deftly weaves insights drawn from an array of anthropological theory with gripping, moving case studies of individual miners and mining sites. . . . Strikingly, Smith shows how Western efforts to crack down on 'blood diamonds' end up, in actuality, to be a tool to weaken the leverage of artisanal miners and allow wily state authorities to cash in on their ability to selectively enforce their will on Congolese workers. This book should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the Democratic Republic of Congo today."
"Chock-full of fascinating details on the people and communities that have lived off mining in the chaos of the wars in Congo."
— Foreign Affairs
"Beautiful and evocative. . . . Smith produces one of the richest and most thought-provoking ethnographies I have read in a very long time. The Eyes of the World is likely to become an anthropological classic."
— Reviews in Anthropology
“Blood minerals: a global cause ‘intended to do one thing, but under the surface, invisible to many, . . . doing something else.’ Smith offers a whirlwind of research on the varied actors who extract coltan—often in the ruins of colonial concessions—making it available to international markets. The Eyes of the World skillfully cuts through metropolitan stereotypes, drawing readers instead into the astounding vortex of the mines.”
— Anna Tsing, coeditor of Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene
“A riveting, wonderful potpourri of story, theory, and history. The Eyes of the World hugs closely to people’s lives, words, and theories, vividly unpacking multiple dimensions of movement in the mining of those digital minerals that end up in global devices. One of the most brilliant, important, and utterly teachable ethnographies to appear on Congo in a long time.”
— Nancy Rose Hunt, author of A Nervous State: Violence, Reveries, and Remedies in Colonial Congo
“Smith gives us a rare glimpse into the complex dynamics of otherwise largely invisible local worlds that do nonetheless matter on a global scale. A great observer and talented narrator, he convincingly argues how, in the vortex of these Congolese mining worlds, destructive forms of extra-statecraft undid existing socio-cultural assemblages while generating the basis for new transformative orders.”
— Filip De Boeck, author of Suturing the City: Living Together in Congo’s Urban Worlds