Sand is shaping and has shaped urban development in many parts of the world. Developing the concept of sand urbanism, this paper aims to understand the recursive constitution of sand extraction and urbanity. We show that sand mining has fundamentally shaped the urban environment, but that the urban environment has equally impacted on sand extraction. Building on literature on the relation between mining and urban development, we show how opportunities and displacement are central to urban relations to sand. Going beyond this literature which has focused extensively on (boom)towns, of which mining is their raison d’être, by looking at large urban centres and sand extraction. Drawing on the concept of sand transitions, we distinguish four phases in the forty-year engagement with sand of our field site in Dhaka-Narayanganj. we focus on sand infilling and the creation of urban land, manual labour opportunities in artisanal mining and bulkhead unloading, as well as cycles of mechanization which have displaced manual labour. We also show that while urban development made on-site sand extraction difficult, the continued demand of sand in the conurbation allowed the transformation of our research site from a sand extraction to a sand trading site, offering connections to new, more peripheral sand boomtowns.

Bert Suykens

Affiliated Senior Researcher