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Comparing the Copperbelt: Political Culture and Knowledge Production in Central Africa

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ComparingCopperbelt (Comparing the Copperbelt: Political Culture and Knowledge Production in Central Africa)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-06-30

This project provides the first comparative historical analysis – local, national and transnational – of the Central African copperbelt. This globally strategic mineral region is central to the history of two nation-states (Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)), as well as wider debates about the role of mineral wealth in development.

First, it will examine the copperbelt as a single region divided by a (post-)colonial border, across which flowed minerals, peoples, and ideas about the relationship between them. Political economy created the circumstances in which distinct political cultures of mining communities developed, but this also involved a process of imagination, drawing on ‘modern’ notions such as national development, but also morally framed ideas about the societies and land from which minerals are extracted. The project will explain the relationship between minerals and African polities, economies, societies and ideas.

Second, it will analyse how ‘top-down’ knowledge production processes of Anglo-American and Belgian academies shaped understanding of these societies. Explaining how social scientists imagined and constructed copperbelt society will enable a new understanding of the relationship between mining societies and academic knowledge production.

Third, it will explore the interaction between these intellectual constructions and the copperbelt’s political culture, exploring the interchange between academic and popular perceptions. This project will investigate the hypothesis that the resultant understanding of this region is the result of a long unequal interaction of definition and determination between western observers and African participants that has only a partial relationship to the reality of mineral extraction, filtered as it has been through successive sedimentations of imagining and representation laid down over nearly a century of urban life in central Africa.
Research activities: Research activities have been carried out in the UK, Belgium, Zambia and the DRC, continuing the utilisation of archives known to the PI and leading to the identification of valuable new sources for our research, particularly in our two research countries. The project team has carried out extensive fieldwork surveys and oral history interviews in Zambia and the DRC.

Publications: Peer-reviewed journal articles by the PI were published in Labor History [‘Permanent Precarity: capital and labour in the Central African copperbelt’: 58, 2 (2017), 170-184] and in Comparative Studies in Society and History [‘Nation-Making at the Border: Zambian Diplomacy in the Democratic Republic of Congo’: 61, 1 (2019), 145-175]. Three more articles were submitted to leading history and African studies journals in early 19 - one of which has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Southern African Studies, the others are still under review. A proposal for an edited book has also been submitted to a leading African Studies publisher and is currently under review.

Dissemination activities:The PI and Research Associates have conducted a large number of dissemination activities reporting on the project findings, organising and participating in a range of events which have strengthened existing and helped establish new research relationships, including in the areas of environmental history, the history of imperial/post-imperial knowledge production, and cultural history. Summary below - for full details see project website.

The Project has organised seven Seminar/Workshops in which Project RAs have discussed their research findings alongside world-leading experts in their fields to informed academic audiences. The project, which is being carried out in close cooperation with universities and individual academics in both Zambia and the DR Congo, has also created opportunities for Zambian and Congolese researchers to share their research with fellow researchers.

'Comparing Africa's Copperbelt' (Uppsala, Sweden, Dec 16) – held in cooperation with the ERC-funded WorkInMining project and Nordic Africa Institute.
'Urban Spirituality in Central and Southern Africa' (Oxford, Jun 17)
‘Mining and Environmental Change in African History’ (Oxford, Nov 17)
'Knowledge Production in (Post) Colonial Congo' seminar/panel at the Congo Research Network 2018 Conference (Oxford, Apr 18)
‘Knowledge production in colonial and post-colonial history' (Oxford, Nov 18)
‘Cultural Production in Africa's Extractive Communities' (Oxford, May 19)
‘Comparing the Copperbelt: Political culture and knowledge production in Central Africa’ Workshop/Conference (Kitwe, Zambia, Jul 18) - organised in cooperation with our three university partners: the University of Zambia, Copperbelt University (Zambia) and the University of Lubumbashi.

The Project has convened (and participated in) three panels at major international conferences: ECAS 2017 (Basel, Jun 17) - ‘Political Cultures in the Central African Copperbelt’, ESSHC (Belfast, Apr 18) - 'Urbanism in Central Africa', ECAS 2019 Conference (Edinburgh, Jun 19) – ‘What remains of labour: the changing and unchanging working realms of African societies’.

Project Research Associates have given papers at 17 African history and subject specific conferences and seminars in Europe and the USA including ASA-UK 2016 (Cambridge, Sep 16), ASA-UK 2018 (Birmingham, Sep 18), TRAMIN 2018 (Chambery, France, Oct 18), ASA-US (Atlanta, USA, Nov 18), American Society for Environmental History Conference (Columbus, USA, Apr 19), ECAS 2019 (Edinburgh, Jun 2019), Southern African Historical Society 27th Biennial Conference (Grahamstown, SA, Jun 19), as well as at African History seminar series in Birmingham, Cambridge and Edinburgh. The PI gave a lecture at the University of Lubumbashi in Jan 18, and presentations were given in Jul 17 at the Southern African Institute of Research and Policy (SAIPAR) i
During the remaining part of the project, the PI and post-doctoral researchers will be completing their research activities and writing up their research. Further journal articles by Research Associates Benoit Henriet, Enid Guene and Rachel Taylor are in the pipeline, as well as a monograph and edited collection.

The project is organising a second workshop in Jul 19 at the University of Lubumbashi and will be convening a panel at the ASA-US conference in Nov 19. A final project conference is planned in Oxford in Spring 20 involving speakers from Zambia and the DRC amongst others. Project members will continue to give papers at subject-specific conferences during the final period.

The ongoing blog series published on the project's website will continue with regular contributions from project team members and guest contributors.
An image of oral history interviews in Mufulira, Zambia