The Central African Copperbelt provides a classic case study of urban African society. The findings of social science research which helped create the ideal of Copperbelt urbanity have been successfully challenged by Ferguson's critique of its modernist assumptions; and by the divergence of actually existing Copperbelt society from the Eurocentric norms underwriting this analysis. Yet idealised notions of copperbelt urbanism continue to be identified by later researchers and appear to influence political discourse and action.
This paper analyses the intersection between the social history of the two copperbelt regions and its representation by both academic and non-academic actors. It compares the construction of the quintessential 'modern urban African' in the Zambian copperbelt - politically militant, cosmpolitan and consumerist - with his counterpart in Haut Katanga - politically quiescent, domesticated and clientelist - and seeks to explain the ways in which these different identities reflect the interaction of material realities and knowledge production processes.