Precious Economies: Gems and Value Making in the Pakistan-Afghanistan Borderlands

Precious Economies: Gems and Value Making in the Pakistan-Afghanistan Borderlands
This dissertation is a historical and ethnographic study of the mineral and gem trade, value-making, and knowledge production in the conflict-ridden borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Grounded in fifteen months of field research among dealers, cutters and miners of gemstones at the starting node of the supply chain in Peshawar’s Namak Mandi gemstone market, it examines on the one hand, the socio-economic and political implications of the mineral trade in Pakistan, and on the other, networks of trade that stretch across South and Southeast Asia. A globalized commodity, gem-quality minerals move with their dealers from their places of origin to first local markets and then eventually to the international trading hub of Bangkok, where they are subjected to further processing and certification. By focusing on the workings and frictions of this commodity network through ethnographic observations, detailed life histories and dialogue with gem cutters and dealers, this dissertation explores two broad questions: What role do borderlands in the Global South play in the global luxury economy; and how do contemporary ideas of quality and commodity value inform the development of a specific branch of the geosciences? An understanding of these various modes of value-making is impossible without taking into account social geographies and moral claims about the mineral and gem market, and locally mediated conceptions of quality and community that are navigated and produced in the commodification of minerals.


Ping-hsiu Lin

Defended in

1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2021

PhD defended at

Chinese University of Hong Kong


Social Sciences




Urban / Rural