Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt

Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt

Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt

Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt

Synopsis

Once lauded as the wave of the African future, Zambia's economic boom in the 1960s and early 1970s was fueled by the export of copper and other primary materials. Since the mid-1970s, however, the urban economy has rapidly deteriorated, leaving workers scrambling to get by. Expectations of Modernity explores the social and cultural responses to this prolonged period of sharp economic decline. Focusing on the experiences of mineworkers in the Copperbelt region, James Ferguson traces the failure of standard narratives of urbanization and social change to make sense of the Copperbelt's recent history. He instead develops alternative analytic tools appropriate for an "ethnography of decline."

Ferguson shows how the Zambian copper workers understand their own experience of social, cultural, and economic "advance" and "decline." Ferguson's ethnographic study transports us into their lives--the dynamics of their relations with family and friends, as well as copper companies and government agencies.

Theoretically sophisticated and vividly written, Expectations of Modernity will appeal not only to those interested in Africa today, but to anyone contemplating the illusory successes of today's globalizing economy.

Excerpt

Calo cesu cileya pantanshi
Na ’fwe bantu tuleya pantanshi
.

Our country is going forward,
And we the people, too.

Copperbelt popular song (and opening quotation to
A. L. Epstein’s
Politics in an African Community,
1958)

Car owning remains a dream. a decade ago, young men in
gainful employment were able to buy cars of all models.
That era is gone, gone never to return again.

Terence Musuku, “Dreams Are Made of This,”
Times of Zambia, July 21, 1989

Dreams are made of THIS:
“MODERN AFRICA” today

In the mid-1960s, everyone knew, Africa was “emerging.” and no place was emerging faster or more hopefully than Zambia, the newly independent nation that had previously been known as Northern Rhodesia. the initiation of large-scale copper mining in the late 1920s had set off a burst of industrial development that had utterly transformed the country; by the time of Independence in 1964, that industrial growth seemed sure to propel the new nation rapidly along the path of what was called “modernization.” From being a purely rural agricultural territory at the time of its takeover by Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company in the 1890s, the modern nation-state of Zambia had by 1969 arrived at an urban population of over I million (nearly 30 percent of the pop-

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