A new project:  Sand Studies – A Human Ecology  of Sediment


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. forthcoming. Annals of the American Association of Geographers. [Accepted Sept 2018]

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

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. 

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 this project, I am also working on establishing a “Sand Studies” network 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.

As conceived, the proposed program is titled “A Human Ecology of Sediment”. Such an approach innovates upon the study of an established problem foundational to political ecology: resource extraction and how we understand or “know” it as an environmental problem. I approach this study by explicitly looking at both the values and impacts of sand extraction, at a time and place where sand has been shifted from a local ‘borrow’ resource to a commodity that is increasingly capitalized and conveyed regionally and internationally.


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 recent work by research collaborators:

-Series of "Sandscapes" Presentations at the Royal Geographical Society Conference 2018 here and here


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.