Ambient technologies : an ethnography of extractive pathways in Eastern DR Congo
This research focuses on the use of ‘hardware’ in mining sites in South-Kivu. Often the concept of hardware is associated with computer technologies, but within a wider sense it can refer to ironware and machines. Thinking through multiple sensuous and acoustic registers of welded crushers, the use of old forlorn colonial scrap, diesel pumps, internal combustion engines (ICE), floating extractive devices called ‘dredges’, and different means to provide air-supply, this dissertation considers these ambient technologies as markers of a specific socio-economic spirit in the postcolonial aftermath of the Congo wars. Fieldwork started in Shabunda territory in the aftermath of Kun Hou mining, a Uganda-based Chinese mining company. Automated bucket-chain dredges were revolted against by angry spirits, but Congolese miniature “sandsuckers” were allowed to stay. Why? In the ensuing chapters I focus in and spiral inwards and outwards along the introduction of small engines that over the past decades slowly transformed the rural landscape in the Global South. I jump between spatial and temporal levels: from the body (skills and attunements) to the regional (transfers) and the global (circulating technologies). Do they allow miners to grasp for breath anew, or do they offer a mere form of cruel optimism? Tracing the field. First, we cast technologies back against a violent colonial past that imported engines and roads which sought to abolish ‘indigenous labor.’ But the ‘mechanical era’ was never without difficulties and rhetoric of unbound progress and infrastructure masked failed macro-polities that sought to outlaw ‘secret sects’ in the hinterland and obfuscate the Congolese labor that made infrastructure possible. Second, we spiral forward into the present in which a ‘post’-war extractive epoch is decided by investment deferral and ingenuity. Based on fieldwork on-the-move I trace the field through blocked airstrips, destroyed roads, politics of claiming, and concrete remains. The first part constructs the building blocks for an ethnography of kazabula (Congolese dredging). Kazabula. We dive into the kazabula world through three lenses. First, we follow their socio-technical trajectory from west to east and we seek to understand the motivations for their socio-technological choices. In a second chapter, I focus on underwater breathing techniques, mastery, and tactile knowledge (Li. mayéle). I showcase how these both depend on earlier itineraries of skill, tactile knowledge, and the affordances of introduced machines. Lastly, I sketch the biography of Moka Pierre to understand the socio-technical itinerary of a dredge through the eyes of a kazabuleur. From time to time, I draw parallels to mining in hard-rock and other social domains of extraction, such as hunting, farming, diamond extraction. Spirited tekne. In a next part, I seek to further undermine a classic, normative, Western understanding of technology. Here, I focus on the transformation from “fabricating” mystical anti-bullets during the war to charms of divination. In both cases, women draw from social, bodily, creative and negotiating powers to unveil themselves as healers or sauveurs (Le. mugila) in public, yet blur the lines between healing/witchcraft, male/female, in the private sphere. Here, engineering is slowly weened away from an overtly technologist’s take on things yet comes to draw from its etymological association with wit, creativity, and cleverness. Engineers in the forest. I briefly return to the mechanical era under colonial rule. I sketch a ‘neutral’ blueprint of dredges, crushers and air compressors and describe them in terms of ‘First technology’, that is, a one-sided a dominating stance toward nature which presupposes classic understandings of progress and technology transfer. Against colonial engineers, I end this manuscript by foregrounding stories about local engineers (Le. batumbi). Drawing from the case of a locally welded ball mill in the forest and the search for technical antidotes against toxic underground fumes (shimoke), I make a case for artistry within a mechanized rural setting and highlight more intricate relationalities between nature, colonial scrap, and miners. Written from the margin of Critical Development Studies, Material Culture, Ontological Anthropology, Science Technology Society, I describe these technologies to often represent something beyond their concrete content. Whereby I initially focus specifically on the inter-mediations, entanglements, and relationalities between miners’ skills and techniques, hardware, and soils, I, time and again, allowed deviations toward enquiries, beyond the material domain, that resonate with an affective scope: hope, failure, abandonment, desire, boredom.
Antwerpen : University of Antwerp & KULeuven , 2023
521 p.
Supervisor: Geenen, Sara [Supervisor]
Supervisor: Verbrugge, Boris [Supervisor]
Supervisor: De Boeck, Filip [Supervisor]
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The publisher created published version Available from 08.05.2025
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Creation 17.10.2023
Last edited 18.10.2023
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