My dissertation project started out as an enquiry into Sino-African socio-cultural encounters in the context of the Zambian copper mining industry. Access challenges made it impossible for me to study these encounters on the ground. I had originally intended to carry out ethnographic fieldwork at one of the mining sites under China Nonferrous Metal Mining (Group) Corporation (CNMC) in Chambishi or Luanshya. From approaching Luanshya as a site of Chinese overseas investment I shifted toward getting to know the city as a place of a long colonial and industrial history. I studied how the land was inhabited by the Lamba people in the past, how it was appropriated through treaties by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) and how the landscape was turned into an extractive sphere serving the industrial mining of copper.
Next to the sites of extraction mining corporations built whole sets of new infrastructure, from roads and railways to residential houses and social facilities. Taking the former mine township of Mpatamatu in Luanshya as a case, I investigated how the township was first constructed as a company town for African mineworkers by Roan Antelope Copper Mines (RACM) starting in the late 1950s. I retraced its extension and development under the state-owned corporations Roan Consolidated Mines (RCM) and Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) until the copper sector's reprivatisation in the late 1990s. My fieldwork focussed on the township's former social welfare buildings; bars, clubs, clinics, community centres and sports facilities built and maintained by the mine. After ZCCM's privatisation, these building were abandoned by the private successors of the parastatal. They turned into corporate debris left in a municipal township.
On a conceptual level, I approached the former social welfare buildings that had turned into corporate debris with Ann Laura Stoler's concept of 'ruination'. Abandoned material sites were by no means inactive ruins but rather sites of ruination, both material and social, that gave impulses to new human practices. I attempted to grasp and understand these creative interventions between ruination caused by colonial and capitalist durabilities and renovative human practice changing what had been abandoned. At the core lay an interplay of social change, material durability and manipulation, and restructured power hierarchies.
Theoretically, I based my methodology, i.e. the reflection of my data generated through ethnographic fieldwork, on Michael Burawoy's reflexive mode of science. My fieldwork had its origin in my engagement with a particular field site, its inhabitants, their lives and history. In the context of post-colonial Zambia, I could never isolate myself, i.e. a comparably well-off European, from the process of data collection. However, I did try to reduce the noise I brought in as a researcher by encountering people in their social contexts, providing the maximum room for their stories and approaching the field as a student of its inhabitants and history.