A global boom since the early 2000s has spurred major mining projects as well as major social conflicts, with South America standing as a central example on both fronts. Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) has also boomed, but academic research on mine-community conflicts has seldom considered the ASM sector. This paper examines the dynamics of conflict and coexistence between mining and other rural livelihoods in a Peruvian ASM boomtown. We analyze ASM-livelihood dynamics through the lenses of water, land, economic tradeoffs, immigration, social and power dynamics, and history and previous conflict – all themes identified in the literature on conflicts around large-scale mining (LSM). In our study site, ASM activity did not physically displace communities or other livelihoods, as often occurs with large-scale mines. We found a baseline acceptance for ASM activity, based on perceptions of economic improvement and historic incorporation of informal mining within the local livelihood mix. However, this acceptance was fragile, threatened by the rapid pace of ASM growth, immigration and social change, and uncertainty about water contamination that could undermine other livelihoods. Weighing the contrasting realities and pressures in our study site, we conclude that ASM could coexist with other livelihoods, though it is far from certain whether this will play out in practice over the long run.
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