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ERC

ComparingCopperbelt Report Summary

Project ID: 681657
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ComparingCopperbelt (Comparing the Copperbelt: Political Culture and Knowledge Production in Central Africa)

Reporting period: 2016-07-01 to 2017-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

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.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The PI and other project staff have conducted a wide-ranging set of activities related to the project, giving lectures and presentations in the UK (at the African Studies Association – UK Conference, Cambridge, Sept 2016) and Zambia (see below). Existing research relationships have been strengthened and new ones established with relevant partners, primarily in the UK, Belgium and the two research countries. Research activities have been carried out in the UK (two research visits), Belgium (two visits) and Zambia (three visits). These have enabled the utilisation of archives known to the PI but also the identification of potentially valuable new ones.

Dissemination: one peer-reviewed journal article by the PI was published in Labor History [‘Permanent Precarity: capital and labour in the Central African copperbelt’: 58, 2 (2017), 170-184)]. A second peer-reviewed article was submitted and is under review at Comparative Studies in Society and History and a third article has been drafted by Research Associate, Dr Stephanie Laemmert for expected submission in 2018. Project findings were also disseminated at the European Conference of African Studies (ECAS) in Basel, Switzerland, in June 2017 in a panel entitled ‘Political Cultures in the Central African Copperbelt, co-convened by the PI, Professor Miles Larmer who also acted as discussant: Research Associates, Dr Stephanie Laemmert and Dr Iva Pesa presented papers at the conference.

Workshops: Three seminar/workshop-type events were held in the UK/EU during the reporting period in which project Research Associates discussed their first research findings alongside world-leading experts in their fields to informed academic audiences: the first, 'Comparing Africa's Copperbelt', held in cooperation with the ERC-funded WorkInMining project and Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, took place in Dec 2016. A second Seminar (four speakers) organised by Stephanie Laemmer on 'Urban Spirituality in Central and Southern Africa' was held in June 2017. A third Seminar on ‘Mining and Environmental Change in African History’ with four leading speakers was organised by Iva Pesa in Nov 2017. In Zambia, presentations about the project were held in July 17 at the Southern African Institute of Research and Policy (SAIPAR) in Lusaka and Copperbelt University (CBU). Calls for papers were issued for events to be held in Oxford (April 18) and Kitwe, Zambia (July 18) in the next phase of the research.

The project website has enabled the dissemination of research findings, information about the project and – in our blog series – information about both our research and that of fellow researchers in cognate areas: 17 posts were uploaded during the reporting period. The project also led to the establishment of a new Copperbelt Research Network, hosted by the project, linking researchers working on the project’s regional focus around the world.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

During the remaining 30 months of the project, the project activities will expand considerably, with the PI working 100% on the project from Jul 18 - Jun 20 and with all three post-doctoral researchers in post.

In addition to ongoing archival research in the UK, Europe and in the project countries, the project team will carry out extensive fieldwork surveys and interviews in Zambia and the DRC during Jun-Aug 2018, and in July 2019. The project, which is being carried out in close cooperation with universities and individual academics in both Zambia and the DR Congo, has created opportunities for Zambian and Congolese researchers to share their research with fellow researchers at a series of workshops and conferences in Zambia and the UK - see below.

Dissemination: Iva Pesa and Miles Larmer will be participating in a panel on 'Urbanism in Central Africa' at the ESSHC conference in Belfast in April 2018. Plans for further dissemination activities include papers/panels at forthcoming ASA-UK, ASA-US and ECAS conferences. The ongoing blog series published on the project's website will continue with regular contributions from project team members and guest contributors.

Publications: A third article has been drafted by Research Associate, Dr Stephanie Laemmert for expected submission in 2018. Articles by Research Associates Benoit Henriet, Iva Pesa and Enid Guene are also in the pipeline, as well as a monograph and edited collection.

Workshops: Calls for papers were issued for events to be held in Oxford (April 18) and Kitwe, Zambia (July 18). Two further seminars are planned in Oxford in 2018/19, with a larger workshop in the DRC in July 2019 and a final conference to present project findings in March/April 2020.
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