People employ various methods to extract gold in the rainforests of the Choco, in northwest Colombia: Rural Afro-Colombian artisanal miners work hillsides with hand tools or dredge mud from river bottoms. Migrant miners level the landscape with excavators, then trap gold with mercury. Canadian mining companies prospect for open-pit mega-mines. Drug traffickers launder cocaine profits by smuggling gold into Colombia and claiming it came from fictitious small-scale mines.
Through an ethnography of gold that examines the movement of people, commodities, and capital, Shifting Livelihoods investigates how resource extraction reshapes a place. In the Choco, gold enables forms of "shift" (rebusque)-a metaphor for the fluid livelihood strategy adopted by forest dwellers and migrant gold miners alike as they seek informal work amid a drug war. Mining's effects on rural people, corporations, and politics are on view in this fine-grained account of daily life in a regional economy dominated by gold and cocaine.