UCL Anthropology


Rosalie Allain


UCL Email: rosalie.allain.10@ucl.ac.uk
Year of start: 2014
Supervisors: Ludovic Coupaye, Jerome Lewis
Subject: Material Culture and Social Anthropology
Fieldsite: Cameroon

PhD Research

'The gold is gone': Techniques of resource making and value transformations amongst the Gbaya of Cameroon [working title]

My research focuses on artisanal and small scale mining practices amongst the Gbaya of Eastern Cameroon, based on 18 months' ethnographic fieldwork near the border with the Central African Republic. The Gbaya are traditionally engaged in hunting, cultivation and ironsmithing, practices which have been increasingly replaced by the work of gold. First introduced by the French and German colonisers in the early 20th century, its role as the community's primary productive activity and source of income and identity has been radically destabilised by the recent arrival and departure of Chinese mining companies. The classic boom and bust resource cycle this instigated, alongside the presence of refugees as well as road bandits from the CAR, have transformed a remote border region into a space of rapid social and environmental change. 

As communities grapple with the afterlife of a gold rush, resource making has become a potent but contradictory and fraught site of economic production and social reproduction. Makeshift, improvised material practices borrowed from colonial mining techniques and which now seek to mimic the accelerated, high-tech extraction of the Chinese are held together to elicit increasingly unstable, unpredictable and marginal values through which the Gbaya build, maintain and erode their social world whilst attempting to carve out a livelihood. 

Drawing from the francophone inspired Anthropology of Techniques, as well as a body of thought emphasising the processual and relational nature of value as generated in human action (e.g.: Munn), I focus on the doing and making of resources through a close study of the materiality of extraction and other practices, whilst paying attention to the historical coming into being of gold as a resource. This approach allows me to trace connections and resonances between mining and other (contemporary and past) techniques (hunting, agriculture, ironsmithing) and the values these generate, situating artisanal mining within broader, changing technical and social repertoires. In doing so, this research brings to light local theories of action, value and creation (e.g.: ideas surrounding luck and fertility) and investigates how the Gbaya enact these in artisanal mining and how these concepts are in turn transformed at the interface with capitalist extractive logics and technologies. 

Research Interests

  • •Anthropology of Techniques and Technology, STS
  • Value, Labour and Resources 
  • Anthropology of Borders and Boundaries
  • Anthropology of Time and Temporality 
  • Ethnography of Equatorial, West and Central Africa


Allain, Rosalie, 2013, "Spectrum of visibility: An exploration of astronomical techniques of visualization", UCL Anthropology Working Papers Series, No. 11/2013. Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/anthropology/research/working-papers/112013

Presentations & Conferences

'Spectrum of the visible: An exploration of astronomical image/inaries', Paper presented at the 'Making outerspace intimate: Familiar scales and strange sites' Panel, 114th American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, 2015 

Education History

  • MA in Material and Visual Culture, with Distinction, University College London, 2010-11
  • BSc in Social Anthropology, First-class honours, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2007-10

Honours, Awards & Funding

  • UCL ChangeMakers Grant, 2017
  • Economic and Social Research Council, PhD Studentship, 2014-2018
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council, Block-Grant Partnership, Research Preparation Master's Studentship, 2010-11

Additional Information

  • Co-organiser for UCL Changemakers Grant, 2017, awarded to student-led innovative learning projects. Entitled "Promoting a strengths-based approach: The PhD cohort as post-fieldwork reintegration tool". Key outputs include PhD writing retreat, Pre-fieldwork panel discussion, blog posts and recommendations report.
  • Exhibitions Assistant, Gasworks, London, Feb-June 2013, assisting with researching, programming and writing material for a year-long series of exhibitions inspired by German sociologist Norbert Elias' thesis in The Civilizing Process. 
  • Researcher in residence, studioSTRIKE, Jan-May 2012. Researcher and organiser for the Bread and Roses Centennial Film Festival marking the 1912 textile strikes in Lawrence, Massachusetts and investigating a century of labour movements. 
  • Visiting Researcher, Department of Physics, Imperial College London, July-August 2011, as part of my masters dissertation research amongst scientists in the Astrophysics Group.