A lucrative industry that presents many job opportunities from distant locations to Colorado, mining operations often threaten the way of life for residents that live near the mine. Dr. Michael Dougherty of the Illinois State University Department of Sociology and Anthropology discussed two current theories about the cause of mineral disputes between host communities and mining companies. They are deprivation theory and proximity to nature theory. Deprivation theory states that a community’s wealth depends on its willingness to cooperate with mining companies. The proximity to nature theory states that communities with a higher indigenous population will be less likely to support mining than communities which have a low percentage of indigenous people. This is because of the importance of the environment and land to indigenous peoples based on their cosmology.
Dougherty found, through three case studies in Central America, that these two theories do not capture the reality of the situation. His data showed that the opposition to mining relationship increased with the amount of land people own. After a certain point, people who own more land oppose the mining corporations. Poorer, more agriculturally based areas generally oppose the mining industry more than affluent suburban areas. The case study of Asuncion Mita, Jutiapa, Guatemala, opposed the general notation that land ownership leads to opposition of the mining industry. The second theory, proximity to nature, has been challenged by case studies in Nueva Conception, Chaltenango, El Salvador, and in Techitan, Huehuetenango, Guatemala. These two cities are very different in terms of percentage of indigenous people. Similarly high levels of opposition to mining invalidate the proximity to nature theory for this region. Dougherty then supported the findings from the case studies by sharing some quotes from people in these cities.
To counter the claim that the land poor do not support mining, he quoted Dona Elida who did not own land, “They [the mineral firms] have good devices, I don’t think there will be pollution. They have good equipment.” To remove the aspect of the sacredness of nature that the theory of proximity of nature adds, rather than a practical purpose of survival that the land provides, Dougherty quoted Don Vidalina from Nuevo Conception. “But can you imagine if [the mineral firm] comes here to offer us work and whole bunch of things for a little while and then they leave us worse than how we were?” He also quoted Don Humberto of Nueva Conception, “I wouldn’t destroy the land or ruin these properties just for the whim of getting metals from the ground. I wouldn’t do that. I was born here.”
These findings lead to a new theory of the sociological implications of mining, which Dougherty calls his Theory of Living, a theory based around people protecting their land because they rely upon it for survival as well as residence. Those with relatively equal amounts of land oppose mining compared to cities with a less equal distribution of land. Based on this, Dougherty recommends that “mining companies exploring the developing world devoted to small farmer agriculture be aware of this dynamic.”