on 23 January 2002
An accusation consistently leveled at post-modern theory is that it's too obscure. All too frequently, the defenders of postmodernism are unclear about what they're trying to say and seem to use inpenetrable jargon to state their case.
Not so in this book. Using his extensive fieldwork in Zambian copper mining towns, James Ferguson conscientiously illustrates the breakdown of the idea of social progress in Zambia since the decline of the copper industry. He shows how the idea of Zambia's progress towards a modern, industrial nation, embodied in the copper mining industry, was merely an imposition of European styles of life on Zambia which benefited only the European powers needing cheap copper.
He argues further that since the fall in the price of copper in the 70s wrecked Zambia's economy, a number of ex-miners and other workers have attempted to "go back" to their tribal roots but have found themselves unable to re-integrate in societies they no longer understand. Stuck in an era in which the modernist project has demonstrably failed, yet changed by it in such a way that returning to their previous cultural practices is not a real option, today's Zambian urbanites might truely be called "post-modern".
Always deeply sensitive to the plight of ordinary Zambians whose livelihoods depend on the copper industry, James' Fergusons book is a "must-read" for anyone interested in contemporary culture theory, in modern day Africa, the copper industry, anthropology or just in people.