Miles Larmer, ‘Permanent precarity: capital and labour in the Central African copperbelt’ (Labor History, 2017)


Miles Larmer (2017) ‘Permanent precarity: capital and labour in the Central African copperbelt’, Labor History, 58:2, 170-184. DOI: 10.1080/0023656X.2017.1298712



This article provides a new history of mine capital and labour in the ‘Central African Copperbelt’ – the cross-border mining region of the Zambian copperbelt and Haut Katanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It doing so, it seeks to overcome the limitations of earlier structurally minded analysis rooted in modernist notions regarding the transformative capacity of mining capital and a ‘new’ African working class. Building on post-structuralist challenges to such assumptions, the article demonstrates the precarity, unevenness and uncertainty of the actually existing copperbelt economy and society. The comparison of the two copperbelt regions enables consideration of differential outcomes as a way of rethinking apparent inevitabilities. Analysis of how ideas about these mining societies were generated and circulated helps explain how dominant ways of understanding copperbelt capital and labour relations became established and continue to inform nostalgia for a ‘golden age’ of mining-fuelled prosperity at odds with historical reality.

Full paper here:


Miles Larmer is Professor of African History at the University of Oxford (St Antony’s College). He is the Principal Investigator for the ERC-funded ‘Comparing the Copperbelt’ project (