Anthropological Analysis


” And so, minerals take on a value that is not simply economic—rather, these muddy deposits have come to embody local territory and history as well as the potential for generative connectivity, as Congolese confirm that they themselves are people of value by cooperatively harnessing the value that they know exists in the ground.”  – James H. Smith


When comparing the findings of the news analysis with the anthropological literature we analyzed, we discovered a clear difference in the way that the news and anthropology was portraying the activism surrounding conflict minerals in the  Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The following chart lays out a comparison of the way news sources (including big-name papers, smaller papers and blogs, and local news sources) and anthropologists (specifically, James H. Smith) portray themes, main actors, and solutions about activism on conflict minerals in the Congo.

“Thus, many people try to use coltan to develop sustainably profitable connections, ‘movement,’ and temporal congruity with the outside world even though they currently do not control the terms of their relationship to coltan and other digital minerals.” – James H. Smith


An Anthropological Critique:

Anthropology provides the critical lens necessary to both understand and critique activism.  Activism is embedded with contradiction and anthropology attempts to bring to light these contradictions and then find a way to forge pathways within them towards truly transformative change.  The pathways that are envisioned are different depending on the anthropologist.  For James Smith, activism surrounding conflict minerals in the Congo must come from the voice of the Congolese.  The solution to the violence that accompanies the mineral rich mines must be envisioned by the Congolese diggers, traders, state and military authorities, and civilians.  Activism that is done in the Western world should not only be informed by but completely shaped around local understandings of mineral power, material possession, and positioning in a globalized world.

James Smith almost solely focuses on the voices of the Congolese people.  He does not group them together as a united people.  Instead he tells the stories and shares the varying views of different sectors of people who are associated and connected to the mineral trade.   He tells the stories and viewpoints that the news sources, even at the local level, left out.  Through this focus on local voice, James Smith subtly critiques both the news sources and much of the activism featured in them by portraying the very different and varying views of the mineral trade that many Congolese have.  Smith writes about how many Congolese do not just view the mineral trade as a source of violence and domination.  Instead, many Congolese see the power that coltan ore has for positive change and social connectivity.  Coltan ore has become a center for “meaning-making” for many Congolese people and is viewed widely as the means to new social networks within a globalized world.  James Smith argues that despite the violence that is engendered through the extraction of coltan ore,  this mineral is seen as a main method of positive social and economic transformation for many Congolese people.

Anthropology focuses on the voice of the Congolese people.  It brings to light the views of the people that activists in the West are attempting to advocate for, views that were widely left out of all of the news sources.  By providing the views of different sectors of the Congolese people, Anthropology provides a more informed foundation for Western activism.  By understanding the voice of the local, activists in the West can better understand how and what to advocate for. Therefore, through empowering the voice of the local, Anthropology is able to provide both a critique of Western activism while also presenting a pathway to move forward on creating change.