University of Sussex
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‘Looking at risk with both eyes’: health and safety in the Cerro Rico of Potosí (Bolivia)

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posted on 2023-06-08, 19:05 authored by Mei TruebaMei Trueba
This thesis is concerned with core assumptions and practices in dominant approaches to Occupational Health and Safety (hereafter, OHS). I critically evaluate these through an anthropological exploration of the everyday perceptions, experiences and practices related to OHS risks amongst the cooperative miners employed in the Cerro Rico of Potosí (Bolivian Highlands). Drawing on 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2009 and 2011, the thesis examines the lives and livelihoods of the miners during a time of socio-political and economic transformations and of industry upheaval due to rising mineral prices. I describe how men and women navigate the challenges and opportunities in their lives and livelihoods and how these affect their perceptions and ability to manage the OHS risks associated with cooperative mining. The thesis hinges on the Andean idea of ‘looking at risk with both eyes’, which connotes various overlapping and changing ways of understanding, perceiving and managing OHS hazards. This approach makes visible numerous inter-connected issues, which include the miners’ individual subjectivities and values, backgrounds and lives, their different motivations for mining and the consequent everyday relations in the mine and beyond. It also allows unveiling the complex net of actors, factors and relationships which, from the individual to the global spheres and vice-versa frame, in a diverse and dynamic manner, both the OHS choices and opportunities of the miners and the particular risks they encounter. On the basis of this ethnographic evidence about miners’ shifting and context-specific perceptions and behaviours in managing risks that are transformed as circumstances change, I question the value of a universalising OHS approach based on assumptions of static and manageable OHS risks that disregard the precarious, complex, uncertain, heterogenic and mutable context in which miners live and work.


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  • Global Health and Infection Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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