Esther Uzar: Politics with-out Authority. Strike, political criticism, and compliance among Mine Union Members in the Zambian Copperbelt

PhD-project in African Studies, University of Basel

The Swiss company Glencore is one of the investors in the Zambian mining industry. Many miners have organized themselves in unions to fight for better working conditions and to address the government in order to tame the foreign investors. Max Weber taught us that authority is a crucial ingredient for domination. But how is authority being produced, recognized, or rejected? Under which circumstances?


The sociological study will clarify the notion of authority: What makes miners support union leaders? What should a political leader be like in order to be accepted? On the other hand, what makes miners disapprove of leaders and reject their authority? Finally, how does authority structure political debate and action in the union context?


Esther Uzar conducted narrative interviews with members and leaders of three miners’ unions, as well as with politicians. Group discussions are planned for the second phase.

First Results

From the perspective of many union members and leaders, the unions and the political system have hardly any authority. This brought over 10.000 miners to strike in eight different mines in the past 12 months. But even though many miners think that the economic and political order is not exemplary, they still regard it as binding. Analyzing the tension between criticism and compliance should help us specify the notions of authority and legitimacy.


Supervisors: Prof. Elísio Macamo and Prof. Max Bergman

Funding: DFG-Priority Program "Adaptation and Creativity in Africa - Significations and Technologies in the Production of Order and Disorder"

Download Poster: Politics with-out Authority (2012)