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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Mobile Workers, Modernist Narratives: A Critique of the Historiography of Transition on the Zambian Copperbelt. Part One
Author:Ferguson, JamesISNI
Periodical:Journal of Southern African Studies
Geographic term:Zambia
Subjects:internal migration
labour migration
Labor and Employment
History and Exploration
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Urbanization and Migration
Abstract:Questions of labour migration and circulation of population between urban and rural areas in Zambia have usually been described according to a grand modernist narrative charting the progressive, stage-wise emergence of a stable, settled urban working class. In this narrative, changes in labour migration have been described in terms of a transition through which a 'classic migrant labour system' featuring short-term migration by lone, male, rurally based migrants gradually gave way to a 'permanently urbanized', 'fully proletarianized', settled urban working class. This paper argues that this conceptualization obscures a correct understanding of the complex relations urban workers have maintained with rural areas over the years, and stands in the way of the task of coming to terms with developments in Zambia, and particularly on the Copperbelt, over the last fifteen years. It examines government policy, labour turnover and length of service, proportions of 'married' and 'single' workers, and demographical aspects in the pre and postwar period and concludes that patterns of migration and urban settlement in the contemporary period show strong and surprising continuities with the past. Men who have lived all their lives in town still replicate elements of older patterns of rurally based labour circulation. Women, as in earlier periods, by no means simply 'follow their men', but make the best of a bad situation by manoeuvring for autonomy within a wage economy still overwhelmingly dominated by men. Ref.