The Country and the City on the Copperbelt

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

Part I of this article will show how constructions of "the country" in Zambia have been contrasted with urban ills in similar ways, both by localist workers with strong links to rural areas, and by more cosmopolitan urbanites during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. Part II, however, will go on to show how such critiques of contrast tended to give way in the late 1970s and 1980s to a more inwardly directed critique that located the blame for urban ills in the supposed "selfishness" of Zambians. Part III explores some of the connections between a changing political-economic situation and these changes in styles of critical apprehension of urban ills. It argues that the shift in styles of critique is linked to changes in ideas of "the country" that have come about through political-economic shifts, as urban dwellers' life trajectories have increasingly been brought into conflict with places long imagined and idealized from a certain distance. (Ferguson, 80)

About the Author

James Ferguson is the Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology. His research has focused on southern Africa (especially Lesotho, Zambia, South Africa, and Namibia), and has engaged a broad range of theoretical and ethnographic issues. These include the politics of “development”, rural-urban migration, changing topgraphies of property and wealth, constructions of space and place, urban culture in mining towns, experiences of modernity, the spatialization of states, the place of “Africa” in a real and imagined world, and the theory and politics of ethnography. Running through much of this work is a concern with how discourses organized around concepts such as “development” and “modernity” intersect the lives of ordinary people.

Professor Ferguson recently completed a sabbatical year at the Stanford Humanities Center researching emerging trends in social assistance to alleviate poverty in southern Africa. While welfare programs in the West have been pared back in recent years, there has been a surprising expansion of social payments to the poor across much of the developing world. In South Africa, for instance, nearly 30 percent of the population today receives some kind of social grant. Tracing emerging new rationalities of poverty and social assistance, the new research aims to illuminate both the dangers and the possibilities presented by new mechanisms of “social” government and emerging forms of politics focused on the question of distribution. This new research will be published in a forthcoming book, provisionally titled, Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution.

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