A new project:  Sand Studies

Key publications and presentations in this emerging area:

Trading sand, undermining lives: Omitted livelihoods in the global trade in sand [preprint]

    V. Lamb, M. Marschke, and J. Rigg. Annals of the American Association of Geographers. Online 2019.

Flows, fluxes and fixes: A mobile political ecology of the transboundary sand & sand-linked livelihoods in Southeast Asia

    V. Lamb and Z. Fung. Environmental Policy and Governance (Open Access). https://doi.org/10.1002/eet.1972

The invisible ‘work’ of the river: Fishing livelihoods and development of the Irrawaddy Delta, Myanmar

    Radford, S. and V. Lamb. Asia Pacific Viewpoint. doi:10.1111/apv.12256. 2020.

Following a disappearing resource: Research methods for study of the global trade in sand

    V. Lamb, Presentation to the Institute of Australian Geographers, Hobart, 2019

Sand, Gravel, and Sediments on the Lower Salween and in a global context 

    V. Lamb, Presentation to the Salween Studies Research Workshop, University of Yangon, 2018


"Dr Lamb .. believes there is “serious unfairness” in the increasingly contentious fight for sand."

    "Approaching global crisis people don't know about" Yahoo News 23 November 2019

"As Myanmar farmers lose their land, sand mining for Singapore is blamed"

    Reuters 4 March 2020 by Sam Aung Moon, John Geddie, Poppy McPherson

"Where does that sand go? Who takes it? Who benefits?"    

    "The demand for sand, and its impact in Asia" on Ear to Asia and Jakarta Post podcast interview with Peter Clarke and Melissa Marschke     27 March 2020

About this emerging research:

Sand mining is a global US$70-billion industry. It is “the global environmental crisis you’ve probably never heard of” (Beiser 2017) but has elicited considerable media attention over the past year as an emerging ecological crisis. Worldwide, large volumes of sand are extracted to produce concrete and fill; increasing demand for sand has driven regional and cross-border commodity flows (UNEP 2014) and corresponding attention to the ecological dimensions of its extraction. The majority of sand is extracted from rivers and coasts, and damage from this is visible to local people and in local and regional ecologies. Where I work in Asia, sand mining and public concern have risen to sudden prominence, with particular attention paid to exports feeding the expansion of Singapore ‘out and up’. Those cross-border flows, and their local impacts on livelihoods, are understudied. 

My current research in development approaches the study of sand via two entry points:

First, I approach sand as one of the most significant but banal climate offenders: the construction industry.  This has brought together my expertise on climate change and transboundary rivers to focus on one overlooked element of modern construction: the physical and social impacts of sand and aggregate extraction from rivers and coasts for use in landfilling and the production of concrete.

Second, I approach sand extraction from rivers and their impacts as a key interface of development and climate change work: building on a decade of prior research in the region, I am currently developing a multi-disciplinary study to examine a set of particularly compelling cases of sand extraction across Asia, investigating both its links to global commodity flows and the very important but overlooked impacts on and within indigenous riverine landscapes and agricultural practices. Development of this project reflects my interest as a scholar to expand my conceptual grounding in political ecology to draw from multi-disciplinary scholarship and from work across multiple sites and scales.

In implementing these projects, I am also working with other scholars to establish a “Sandscapes Collective” to collaborate with researchers working on these issues and to connect scholars interested in addressing this ‘global’ problem, similar to the approach taken with the establishment of a “Salween Studies’” network, expanding collaboration to work with partners beyond the University.

Student work:

-University of Melbourne Honours student Stella Radford's ongoing work in the Irrawaddy Delta - title: "When Development Threatens Livelihoods: Development in the Delta City of Pathein"

Other Key works on this emerging topic:

Beiser, V. 2017, Feb 27. Sand mining: the global environmental crisis you’ve probably never heard of. Guardian 

Beiser, V. 2018. The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization. Penguin.

Comaroff, J. 2014. Built on Sand: Singapore and the New State of Risk. Harvard Design Magazine No 39.

Torres, A., J. Brandt, K. Lear and J. Liu. 2017. A looming tragedy of the sand commons. Science 357 (6355), 970-971. 

UNEP. 2014. Sand – Rarer than one thinks. UNEP.