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Expectations of Modernity

Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt

James Ferguson (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 343 pages
ISBN: 9780520217027
October 1999
$31.95, £23.95
Other Formats Available:
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.
James Ferguson is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of The Anti-Politics Machine: "Development," Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho (1990). He is also coeditor, with Akhil Gupta, of Anthropological Locations: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science (California, 1997) and Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology (1997).
"With Expectations of Modernity James Ferguson has once more made an important contribution to the reconstruction of anthropology. His own vivid ethnography of urban lives in the late twentieth century offers new understandings of culture and cosmopolitanism, while his sense of the wider picture helps us see Africa, in a difficult period, as the continent which contemporary globalization rhetoric conveniently forgets. This is contemporary anthropology of the most relevant, responsible and intellectually sophisticated kind." —Ulf Hannerz, Stockholm University

"A deeply thoughtful book, written with enormous sensitivity. I much admired Ferguson's very original take on African 'modernity.' His engagement with cultural studies is always informed by a deep historical understanding and an appreciation of economic realities. He connects critically but sympathetically with both his informants and with earlier generations of urban anthropologists. The book is often moving--the hardships of life in this 'abject' postmodern setting are too evident, but the amazing creativity of urban 'citemene' culture is wonderfully described. And Ferguson's account of the fraught, conflictual and sometimes violent nature of gender relations is extremely important. Certainly one of the best books on Africa I have read in recent years, this will be required reading for anthropologists and historians." —Megan Vaughan, Oxford University

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