Comparing the Copperbelt

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

This project, led by Dr Miles Larmer and funded by the ERC under the European Union's Horizon 2020 programme, provides the first comparative historical analysis – local, national and transnational - of the Central African copperbelt, a globally strategic mineral region central to the history of two nation-states (Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)) and wider debates about the role of mineral wealth in development. 


Comparing the Copperbelt
Research Aims

The project has three interrelated and comparative objectives. 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 process of Anglo-American and Belgian academics 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 of the copperbelt and the region’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 owes only a partial relationship to the reality of mineral extraction, filtered as this has been through successive sedimentations of imagining and representation laid down over nearly a century of urban life in central Africa. 

Related Centres and Projects