On-line version ISSN 2309-9585
HANSEN, Karen Tranberg. Urban research in a hostile setting: Godfrey Wilson in Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia, 1938-1940. Kronos [online]. 2015, vol.41, n.1, pp. 193-214. ISSN 2309-9585.
Acknowledged for his pioneering urban anthropological research in Broken Hill through the publication of An Essay on the Economics of Detribalization in Northern Rhodesia (Parts I and II, 1940 and 1941), Godfrey Wilson's professional career was cut short by his death during World War II. The late 1990s transfer and cataloguing at the University of Cape Town of the Monica and Godfrey Wilson papers has made an enormously rich research archive accessible to the public. For the first time, Godfrey Wilson's notes from his fieldwork in Broken Hill enable us to examine his research project through his own observations. Based on a preliminary overview of these records and a tentative analysis of some of their contents, this article revisits the Broken Hill research project against the background of the published essay on the economics of detribalisation. Wilson's argument about temporary urbanisation is demonstrated through migration histories, information about length of stay in towns, and an analysis of the economics of urban livelihoods that focuses on wages including rations, household expenditures, and urban-rural transfers. But the published essay barely explains how in fact he conducted his field research. Although there are very few direct indications, we can infer some of his fieldwork practices and field methodology from notes that occasionally evoke an immediate sense of the trials and tribulations of everyday African life in Broken Hill in the early World War II years. How might experiences in the field have influenced Wilson's analysis? Overall, I discuss his work from two angles, first in the context of a time and place characterised by conflicting agendas, and secondly, in retrospect as the conceptual space and time of early World War II colonial Northern Rhodesia have yielded to different explanatory perspectives.
Keywords : Urbanisation; Northern Rhodesia; race relations; 1930s fieldwork; research methodology; consumption.