Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Rhodes-Livingstone Institute and Interdisciplinary Research in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), 1937-1964

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Rhodes-Livingstone Institute and Interdisciplinary Research in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), 1937-1964

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Many attempts have been made to define the term 'interdisciplinarity' in research (Berger, 1972; Mayville, 1978; Stember, 1991) although none seems satisfactory. Most attempts at the definition of the term tend to sub-divide interdisciplinary into several categories such as multi-disciplinarity, pluridisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity. In this article, interdisciplinary follows the definition by Nissani (1997: 203). It implies a research approach involving a combination of two or more disciplines in the search or creation of new knowledge, operation or artistic expressions. For example, historians of the field sciences have shown how the practices associated with tourism partly formed the basis of astronomers' solar eclipse expeditions in the Victorian period and how the practices of painters, mining engineers, and prospectors came to be employed by geologists (Schumaker 1996: 237).

Interdisciplinary research in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) began in the late 1930s following the establishment of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute (RLI). It was noted that disciplinarians often commit errors which could be best detected by people familiar with two or more fields of specialisation. Anthropologists dominated research at the newly established Institute, but scholars from disciplines such as History, Ethnography, Economics, Political Science, and Geography were also fused in. These scholars came to be known as the Manchester School, after the university whose seminars were intense and testing fora for them and others. As Nissani notes, interdisciplinary approach offers fresh insights and methodologies from other disciplines in the study of social phenomena (Nissani 1997: 205). Brown (1973, 1979) has written evocative accounts of the RLI's members' involvement in the country as an example of Europeans' presence in Africa. Kruper (1973) has characterised the Institute's role in the development of British anthropological thought as a part of the history of ideas, while Van Donge (1985) establishes the connection between the work of the RLI and understanding the state of rural post-independence Zambia. This article makes a contribution to the historiography of social science research in colonial Zambia. It does not pretend to be an exhaustive review of either the total work of the RLI or its contribution to the development of anthropological thought.

2. The need for knowledge

Since the arrival of Governor Hubert Young in Northern Rhodesia in 1929, the colonial Government's intention had been to set up a museum in the country for archaeological and anthropological exhibits. However, before this project could take off, a bloody industrial dispute took place on the country's Copperbelt in 1935--the first such mine workers strike. All mining houses were taken by surprise because prior to this mine operations ran smoothly. Mine managers were very relaxed and never thought Africans could strike because they believed workers were happy. The authorities gave an example of the large numbers of people available on the Copperbelt in search of jobs after the Depression as an indication that things on the mines were stable. They also interpreted the low rates of absenteeism and desertion on the mines as indicators of job dissatisfaction. The strike had many characteristics of a spontaneous, unplanned protest against the colonial Government in all its manifestations. It only ended when the police opened fire on a crowd at Roan Antelope mine in Luanshya town, killing six people. According to Henderson (1973: 293) and Meebelo (1970), the subsequent enquiry into the disturbances only revealed how little was known about the conditions in the mine compounds, and about the feelings of African workers.

What this strike revealed was that there were deep-rooted challenges in the country which needed to be addressed. It was in this vein that the government decided to set up a research institute that could tackle challenges that had emerged due to migratory labour, urbanisation and industrialisation. …

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