There used to be order : Life on the Copperbelt after the privatisation of the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The thesis examines what happened to the texture of place and the experience of life on a Zambian Copperbelt town when the state-owned mine, the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) was privatized beginning 1997 following the implementation of structural adjustment policies that introduced free market policies and drastically reduced social welfare. The Copperbelt has long been a locus for innovative research on urbanisation in Africa. My study, unusual in the ethnographic corpus in its examination of middle-income decline, directs us to thinking of the Copperbelt not only as an extractive locale for copper whose activities are affected by the market, but also as a place where the residents’ engagement with the reality of losing jobs and struggling to earn a living after the withdrawal of mine welfare is re-texturing simultaneously both the material and social character of the place. It builds on an established anthropological engagement with the region that began with the Manchester school. This had done much to develop a theoretical approach to social change. The dissertation contributes to this literature by reflecting on how landscape and the art of living are interwoven and co-produce possibilities that, owing to both historical contingencies (for example, market fluctuations) and social formation (the kinds of networks and relationships to which one has access, positions in a nascent class structure and access to material means) make certain forms of inhabiting the world (im) possible, (un) successful for oneself and others. Ethnographic fieldwork using qualitative research methods was conducted over a two-year period between 2007 and 2009 with a core of close informant relationships from which a wider network was established. This was complemented by two quantitative neighbourhood surveys to measure the scale of observable phenomena. The author makes a case for an anthropology of "trying", an expression often made in response by Copperbelt residents to how they are getting on. It is one that indicates an improvised life and offers an analytical approach to exploring the back-story to the residents’ observation that in the (ZCCM) past there used to be order.

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