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  • Zambia at 50:The Rediscovery of Liberalism
  • Harri Englund (bio)
Jan-Bart Gewald, Marja Hinfelaar and Giacomo Macola (eds), One Zambia, Many Histories: toward a history of post-colonial Zambia. Leiden: Brill (pb €44 – 9789004165946). 2008, 304 pp.
Jan-Bart Gewald, Marja Hinfelaar and Giacomo Macola (eds), Living the End of Empire: politics and society in late-colonial Zambia. Leiden: Brill (pb €43 – 9789004209862). 2011, 333 pp.
David M. Gordon, Invisible Agents: spirits in a Central African history. Athens OH: Ohio University Press (pb $32.95 – 9780821420249). 2012, 304 pp.
Miles Larmer, Rethinking African Politics: a history of opposition in Zambia. Farnham: Ashgate (hb £70 – 9781409406273). 2011, 321 pp.
Giacomo Macola, Liberal Nationalism in Central Africa: a biography of Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula. New York NY: Palgrave Macmillan (hb £66 – 9780230622744). 2010, 224 pp.
Bizeck Jube Phiri, A Political History of Zambia: from the colonial period to the third republic. Trenton NJ: Africa World Press (pb $29.95 – 1592213081). 2006, 286 pp.

Zambia stands out in African Studies as a country that has attracted an unusual degree of scholarly attention. From the establishment of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute in 1937 to the present, research in Zambia has significantly influenced academic and policy debates well beyond its borders. Relatively rapid urban growth on the Copperbelt, for example, occasioned not only pioneering studies in urban anthropology (Epstein 1958) but also debates about ethnic, national and class identities – studies whose foundational impact continues to be felt in the twenty-first century (Gluckman 1961; Magubane 1971; Mitchell 1956; see also Ferguson 2002; [End Page 670] Kapferer 1995). Having provided field sites for the towering figures of Audrey Richards (1939), Victor Turner (1957) and Max Gluckman (1955), among many other anthropologists of their generation, Zambia also became associated with groundbreaking work on topics such as ritual and law. For the discipline of anthropology, Zambia commands a special status in its conceptual and methodological development. Zambia was among the first countries where the limits of structural-functionalism were transcended by recognizing wider political-economic processes beyond the village and by introducing novel methods to capture that complexity, such as situational analysis, social drama and the extended-case method (van Velsen 1967; Werbner 1984). This methodological legacy continues to be rediscovered in anthropology, often as a useful reminder that some contemporary theoretical concerns are best pursued with this legacy in mind (Evens and Handelman 2006).

Independence in 1964 did not put an end to this intellectual ferment, but it gradually lost its momentum as the economy declined sharply from the 1970s onwards, largely but not only as a result of plummeting world prices for copper. Expatriate scholars had proceeded to distinguished careers elsewhere, and the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute went through various phases of change under African directors and different names (Schumaker 2001: 229). Economic decline gave rise to new influential anthropological studies, such as James Ferguson’s (1999) on the Copperbelt’s crushed expectations and Karen Tranberg Hansen’s (2000) on local and transnational aspects of the sudden boom in second-hand clothing. Zambia’s capacity to be a trendsetter in policy and politics, even if with detrimental consequences for the welfare of the majority, was affirmed by its particularly vigorous campaign to comply with its structural adjustment programme and its equally notable role in spearheading the transition to multi-partyism in Africa. These political-economic transformations have naturally aroused the curiosity of several social scientists (see Bratton and van de Walle 1997; Fraser and Larmer 2011; Rakner 2003; Sichone and Chikulo 1996). Zambia’s past and present gifts to scholarship have not, however, involved two kinds of researchers as much as might be expected. One is Zambia’s own cohorts of social scientists, some of whom came to play a crucial, if largely unacknowledged, role in the work produced by the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute and its subsequent institutional forms (Schumaker 2001). The other is historians who, despite the very high standards for researching pre-colonial history set by Andrew Roberts’s monumental A History of the Bemba (1973), hardly figured in the intellectual ferment described above.

The set of books under review here changes this landscape of disciplinary emphases in the scholarship on Zambia. They herald the...


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