“There Is a Fault Here!”: A Report on a More Inclusive Research Method in a Creative Project in Lubumbashi (DR Congo)

“There Is a Fault Here!”: A Report on a More Inclusive Research Method in a Creative Project in Lubumbashi (DR Congo)

Carl-Philipp Bodenstein and Daniela Waldburger


This article explores the dynamic between the procedures of traditional academic research and new visions for transparency, cooperation, and shared knowledge. A particular focus of this essay lies in the production of knowledge, including the accessibility of research results to the “researched ones,” in cooperation with a local art center.[1] This methodological report is written from the perspective of the researchers, Daniela Waldburger, a (socio-) linguist and Carl Philipp-Bodenstein, a historian and social-anthropologist, both who work within the field of African Studies, and will be focused on “shared authority” and “shared videography”. This approach was used for a project that took place in Lubumbashi in July 2019. First, the context in which this specific methodological approach has been chosen will be discussed because “. . . research is not an innocent or distant academic exercise but an activity that has something at stake and that occurs in a set of political and social conditions.”[2] Second, we will describe from the perspective of our discipline, the actual realization of the project and then consider some of the possibilities and limitations we encountered in developing it.

Research Context

Daniela’s research in Lubumbashi is part of a superordinate project titled “Employment-tied Housing in (post)colonial Africa”. Carl is an equal contributor to the research even though he is working in Livingstone, Zambia.[3] The overall objective is to examine how employment-tied housing served as a tool of empire (and later of independent African states) to project power and exercise domination over societies and to discipline colonial subjects (and later citizens) throughout the so-called ‘development era’ from the 1940s to the 1970s. Daniela’s browsing through archival sources in Brussels soon revealed that the history of Lubumbashi is closely entangled with the mining company Union Minière du Haut-Katanga (UMHK) and its successor Gécamines. Since the beginning of the company’s involvement in Africa, the “stabilization” of the population and the workers was a key topic for the state and the company.[4] Thus, the need to control the population and the workforce resulted in the (post)colonial state and the company taking many disciplinary measures. Among the most important of these concerned the provision of housing. Based on the documents found in the corporate archives, especially the minutes of the UMHK and Gécamines, Daniela concluded that the company’s attempts to shape and control the mind-set of the workers during the colonial and post-colonial period must have left traces among the workers. She expected the workers to detest the company as she read, for instance, about complaints by workers that were carefully noted in the company’s minutes. However, when Daniela started to conduct interviews in Lubumbashi in 2017 and 2018, participants talked about the experiences with immense nostalgia. Antipathy did not exist, for neither the company as a corporation, its members, nor the former colonial state. “C’était bien à l’époque” was the sentence she heard most often. Daniela thus decided to follow the workers’ narratives of the glorious past and their hopes for the future. She became interested in the workers’ perception of the “object of loss”–a product of imagination and memory.[5]

Since her first stay in Lubumbashi, in 2017, Daniela has been in contact with Sari Middernacht and Patrick Mudekereza from the Centre d’Art Waza. They have been exploring ways to engage with local communities, which have been suffering from the ongoing economic crisis since 2003. They entered the debate on this crisis by working on the social imaginations created by it and have been searching for answers that both speak to the local context while also contributing to a broader level of analysis. They applied the concept of shared authority in creative production in the Ukumbusho project in 2000 within the context of the project Mémoires de Lubumbashi.[6] The discussion between Daniela and the Centre d’Art Waza resulted in the decision to collaborate for the project Mitaani #mapping Moments in July 2019 and to get Gulda El Magambo, a local video artist, on board. Through this collaboration, they aimed to explore the notion of shared authority in terms of both its methodological possibilities and limits. Moreover, the project aimed at making the research process transparent and its results accessible in a creative act by using shared videography. The goal of this approach was to enable a collective, creative response to socio-political issues.

Target Groups: Members of the Collectif des Ex-agents de la Gécamines

Daniela’s participants were members of the Collectif des ex-agents de la Gécamines. They were all born between the 1930s and 1950s and started their careers in the late 1950s to early 1970s. Most of them were born to UMHK workers and consequently had childhood memories of growing up in the Cité Gécamines, the neighborhood in which the company’s blue-collar workers lived. At the beginning of the 2000s, Gécamines was only “a shadow of the former mining and industrial empire of the Union Minière du Haut-Katanga” after the state started to decline in the 1990s, during Mobutu’s regime.[7] In 2001, Joseph Kabila came to power, and two pressing issues led the DRC and the World Bank to cooperate again. The first was to support the peace process, and the second was the urgent need for the DRC to re-establish the national economy. Within this context, the liberalization of the mining sector was crucial to the World Bank. The company, therefore, had to attract private foreign investors in order to save industry in Katanga.[8] Hence, the World Bank started a program to allow the mining company a fresh start. The program Operation Départ Volontaire (ODV) was a strategy that aimed to cut the number of employees by 10,660 workers. As the workers were not paid salaries for several months before, most of them were forced by their economic misery to accept the compensation offered by the government, which was a “lump sum lower than the legal minimum.”[9] These former employees established the Collectif des ex-agent de la Gécamines. Since 2001, they have been demanding the full payment of all lost wages and other benefits. They self-organized in several subgroups and the one with which Daniela was collaborating is the one in the Cité Gécamines in Lubumbashi. The Centre d’Art Waza teamed up with this association for the above-mentioned Ukumbusho project.

Working with a group with a political agenda has its challenges. On various occasions, Daniela’s position as a researcher was a point of discussion. She was not able to organize the money the group has been fighting for, and she would not personally engage in a legal case against the World Bank. However, she promised to make their voices heard. That promise was not a gesture of goodwill so much as it was a compensation for their willingness to share an immense amount of information with her; it reflected her increasing interest in more inclusive research approaches.

Shared Authority and Shared Videography

Sharing not only the archival material but also the first preliminary research results with the members of the ODV was an idea that emerged in discussions with the Centre d’Art Waza Lubumbashi starting in 2018. First, Daniela wanted to share her own concepts and their modifications, for instance about the perception of surveillance as reflected in interviews and archival sources with the workers, and second, she hoped to produce a collaborative analysis of the changing conceptualizations of the topics addressed during interviews and during group discussions. Two selected examples shall illustrate this [10]:

Work: Until the 1940s, work meant slavery and later, after the 1940s, wage work. After the Second World War, “kazi” (work) took on a positive connotation as describing “a good life.”[11] This change in connotation occurred against the backdrop of the company’s urgent need for a stable workforce. Thus, the company provided everything the workers needed (housing, leisure facilities, health service, etc.). The company’s goal was to establish a society of workers organized according to the Belgian idea of how this society of workers was supposed to function. This rationale did not change much after independence in 1960. Since the 1960s, Congolese people increasingly got better positions, and many became senior staff members. The workers’ perception of work began to change in 2003 since they were forced to leave the company “voluntarily” in order to get a far too small compensation. Thus, the house was the only thing they had left.

During a group discussions with members of the Operation Départ Volontaire in the Cité Gécamines, Lubumbashi, DR Congo.

Identity: All interviewees identified themselves with not only being a worker but also an agent of the company.[12] They illustrated this point, for instance, by describing their promotions, which often required that they move into a new house and change their duty station, sometimes within Lubumbashi from the Cité Gécamines to Makomeno. Thus, work had an impact on their social and spatial mobility. Another identity-relevant topic is the question of pride to have been an agent of the company versus the objectification of having been only a wheel in the system. Statements such as “J’était très fière” (I was very proud), “Napenda kazi, utarespecté” (I loved the work, you were respected) or even “Je suis née dans le groupe centre” (I was born into the group South) (others would say I was born to my parents who were [names]) which exemplifies total identification with the company since birth, demonstrate the significance of this question.[13] One interviewee in Makomeno, for instance, is now living in the boyerie and rents out his big house to get some money. His living room is full of objects from his past as a cadre of the company. He is very proud to have been working for Gécamines, and he presented trophies from sports competitions organized and sponsored by the company with a great deal of pride and nostalgia.

The interviews with the workers shed light on those issues that matter most to them. The interviews exposed not only the individuals’ perceptions of a specific topic at a specific time but also revealed discursive links to other topics. It is this temporality of “concepts” that allows for a translation of past experiences into futures, as Bo Stråth argues.[14] Moreover, “[t]he gap between the imageries of the past and those of the future is continuously revised.” As housing was one of the main means of social engineering by Gécamines, the interviews reveal the workers’ evaluation of these experiences.

However, these were Daniela’s assumptions and conclusions, which she wished to discuss with workers based on the belief that “authority is shared in oral history by definition–in the dialogic nature of the interview, in the history-making offered by both interviewer and narrator.”[15] The Centre d’Art Waza and Daniela thus decided to organize a baraza (a Swahili term for a forum or discussion open to anyone). Guided by the idea of shared authority, Daniela aimed to discuss her reading of concepts and the alterations of these concepts as derived from the interviews and archival sources during several gatherings with the workers. The dialogic negotiation between the researcher and the workers as a group should result in a collaborative analysis of the changing conceptualizations of those topics that emerged in relationship to the housing nexus. During the interviews, the workers shared their perceptions, while during the baraza the negotiation process among the workers and the researcher enabled a collective analysis. We hence distinguish this approach to research purely based on participatory science: it is the researchers’ intention to elaborate on the analyses in collaboration with the workers.

To document the baraza Daniela and Carl decided to work with the approach of shared videography. The concept of shared authority in historical and museal work has its origins in anthropology and sociology (shared anthropology/shared ethnography). This method originates from the works and practices of Jean Rouch. As Paul Henley argues, Rouch was the first filmmaker to start seeking feedback for his films from the people appearing in them. He noticed that the audience members would not be passive recipients but would be actively engaged in what was shown to them; they even would suggest further topics and aspects of their social and cultural lives for future films. However, in these early accounts, the subjects of Rouch’s films were not engaged in the productions. Later, the concept of “sharing” further developed for at least two important reasons. “Sharing” in qualitative work within the social sciences in general stems not only from an ethical motivation to decolonize knowledge and its production through reflection and participation but from an academic impetus to reduce what Pierre Bourdieu called “scholastic bias.”[16] Thus, not only a reflection about the researcher’s social position is necessary but also active participation (or sharing) in the production of knowledge to reduce the distanciation or alienation effect usually immanent to processes like conducting interviews or filming.[17]

Daniela and Carl’s perspective on how to achieve sharing authority is similar to Rouch’s approach but has another dimension to it. The concept of shared authority is thought to work within two connected layers: 1) the performance of discussing and collaboratively analyzing the academic accounts of Daniela’s work and 2) the filming of these discussions and negotiations by two pairs of eyes, or through two lenses if you will. One pair of eyes belonged to the Congolese artist Gulda El Magambo the other to Carl-Philipp Bodenstein. The sharing within this layer of performance was then extended to the editing suite afterward to combine the perspectives of these two pairs of eyes and to finally be reviewed and shared as a collaborative product. The aim of this endeavor was not only to document the process of sharing authority but to extend the concept of shared authority on different levels through form and content and finally synthesize the two layers of performance.

With this in mind, the objects of exposition for the Centre d’Art Waza in a curatorial sense were: 1) a film documenting the baraza, film sequences for video installations in the Centre d’Art Waza, and a film version uniquely for workers to finish as part of a three week project in July 2019, and 2020) notes taken during the baraza that were also the basis of the Congolese cartoonist T. Colby’s drawings that would be exhibited in the Centre d’Art Waza as well.

The goals for us as researchers were threefold. First, Daniela wanted an analysis of the concepts related to the nexus of housing and nostalgia, based on the principle of shared authority, that will enable her to develop new ideas and gain additional societal knowledge. This in turn will increase the public acceptance of her research results. In addition, the documented baraza will also serve as data material for her further analysis. Second, Daniela wanted to highlight that the workers’ voice is vital in the process of collaborative analysis. While in the interviews their voices were individual sources, it was in the collaborative group negotiation of the concepts that the workers contributed on equal terms to the different layers, changes, and meanings of concepts in the collaboration. Therefore, this approach democratizes the discursive meaning of science. It is a co-creation of scientific knowledge. Third, Daniela wanted to operate through a formal process of negotiation, one of the reasons being that objects linked to it would be able to serve as curatorial material for Centre d’Art Waza (and would, therefore, be public and again accessible to the workers). This would allow critical examination of the research results by participants and the wider public.

Mitaani #mapping Moments July 2019

Planning process

The first week started with a meeting at the Centre d’Art Waza to discuss the fine-tuning of the project. The organizers had discussions, for instance, on how to deal with nostalgia, and how that related to the current life dynamics of the ODV members. In a following meeting with the board members of ODV the researchers discussed their idea, and the members gave their approval and support–and equally important–expressed their interest in this collaboration.[18] In joint collaboration, they thus organized what we called the “trigger-event” to take place three days later. The role of the video production was at the center of the researchers’ perspective, and for us, it had a more or less clearly defined function. It was supposed to serve as data material for the analysis back home and as raw material for Carl and Gulda for the artistic video. Yet, in the beginning, how to integrate the artistic dimension was more of a speculative question. Daniela and Carl envisioned working with Centre d’Art Waza in a quasi-symbiotic collaborative manner. This was in the sense of: ‘we will do something together and everybody has their part and benefit’. There was an implicit and silent acknowledgment that neither party was fully aware of what the other was up to, beyond mere organizational necessities. Yes, they talked, had meetings and discussions, and made plans. But to be honest, there were ‘disciplinary’ or ‘professional boundaries’ they ending up crossing without an actual intention to cross them, guided again by the implicit and silent principle of ‘we do the academic stuff, you do the art stuff’. It came as more of a surprise then, when the process of creating, producing, and presenting the filmic product, from the very first trigger event to the grand baraza, actually dissolved these boundaries, even if only for a moment. It was also this process that put the video itself as well as its visual dimensions and properties into context. Although the video production was, as stated above, at the center of the collaborative endeavor, it needed to be transgressed and side-lined in order for it to truly perform its role, not only or primarily as a visual product but as a center of gravity of a larger social dynamic.

The Trigger Event

This event aimed to present and discuss the idea of the planned baraza with all the former workers interested in participating. The first challenge was to find a fitting location. The ODV members decided on a location in the Cité Gécamines because they wanted to make access as easy as possible for the workers. They scheduled the event for a Friday, after the meetings for which the members of the association usually assemble. The board members of the association distributed the information of this scheduled meeting to the members of the ODV. On the day of the meeting, July 12, 2019, interested audience members were numerous; approximately 100 chairs were put out and nearly all of them were taken. Organizers installed three tables to allow sufficient space for a projector and a laptop, as well as audio equipment for the microphones. After Daniela personally welcomed everyone at the entrance to the space, the members of the Art Centre formally opened the event and explained the general idea of the baraza. Next, Daniela explained the research she had started two years earlier. To do that, she showed, for instance, pictures of the files found in the archives and explained how she worked with this material to reveal the (colonial) state’s and especially the UMHK’s strategies for implementing measures of control. We presented a propaganda film by the UMHK that was produced to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary in 1956.[19] This film showed different measures of “social engineering” by the UMHK; at least that was how the researchers critically reflected it. However, the vivid and emotional discussion of this film that then followed was different than the researchers and the members of the Art Centre expected. The attending former workers did not complain about these measures of “control” by the company at that time. On the contrary, they pointed out that, at that point in time, they felt “well taken care of,” as shown in the movie (where, for instance, the benefits newly arrived workers received were described in detail), while today, they felt neglected and deprived of the benefits that were available before 2003.

It was during the discussion of this film that Daniela, for the first time, was compelled to reconsider her assumptions about the workers’ positions. Later, she explained the importance of the interviews she conducted to highlight the voices she heard, which linked today’s perception to the archival material. She thus presented the topics she suggested for the baraza as derived from the interviews and archival sources: identity, health and hygiene, roles of the women, and surveillance. Daniela then invited workers to sign up for a discussion scheduled for the coming week according to their choice of topic and were asked if they were interested in participating at all. To finish the trigger event, the members of the Centre d’Art Waza, Daniela, and Carl expressed their wish to not only give the workers a voice but also to preserve their thoughts and shared memories; they would not only take the workers’ stories back to Europe but also preserve and present them in Lubumbashi. The concluding idea of the collaboration was framed by a metaphor for the human body. The Centre d’Art Waza represented the hands. Because they had established relationships with the workers and had experience in bringing people together through their power as a trusted cultural center in the city, they were best able to facilitate the gathering of materials and serve as curators. Daniela represented the brain; the content of the project was based on her research. Carl-Philipp Bodenstein and Gulda El Magambo represented the (two pairs of) eyes that observed and documented the negotiating process, one from a research perspective (Carl) and the other from a local perspective (Gulda). We discussed this description of roles during this event. It might seem presumptuous that it was Daniela’s role that entailed the analytical power because she was defined as the brain. However, the former workers insisted that she should play that role because, coming from a university and being engaged in what they evaluated as a “real research,” she was offering the platform where they were listened to. At the very center of the body, however, were the members of the ODV who represented the heart.

Taking notes of a group discussions with members of the Operation Départ Volontaire in the Cité Gécamines, Lubumbashi, DR Congo.


The group discussions that followed the week after the trigger event took place in the Cité Gécamines; the board members invited us to use their meeting room. The advantage of this location was obvious; the place was familiar to those attending. After the trigger event, we had eight group discussions scheduled, two for each of the four topics. Due to reasons that are very common and comprehensible and not unusual for the research setting, two of the group sessions did not take place because nobody showed up. There were funerals to attend or other events that hindered people’s ability to be present. However, the rest of the sessions were well attended.

The trigger event started after Carl and Gulda had set up the technical equipment for filming. The barazas were set up in half-circles. In the middle of these half-circles, a small wooden table served as a pedestal for the microphones. Carl and Gulda located the cameras and field-recorders close to the entrance of the room, facing a corner of two windowless walls, to the right and left of which the participants of the baraza were sitting. Natural light was coming through a window facing these two walls and illuminated the participants. That way, it was ensured that no additional lighting was needed. Four cameras were set up. Two of them remained stationary and captured the entire scene. The other two were hand-held and operated by Carl and Gulda. Members of the ODV, who had participated in the initial trigger event, had already agreed to be filmed at that time; however, Daniela and Carl asked each participant again. There were no objections. On the contrary, they often stressed that it was important to them that their voices be heard, and their faces be seen.

After the welcoming, the gatherings started by addressing the language question. Would they prefer French or Swahili?[20] Before each session started, we agreed that both languages should be used side by side, as is often the case in Lubumbashi. The introduction and initial statements that Daniela read to initiate the discussions were usually in French. However, they often contained Swahili loan words when topics demanded specific terminology (like the discussion of the role of the tshanga tshanga, a person who was a chief in the Cité Gécamines). During the discussions, both languages were in use by all participants. A large number of the baraza participants, as Daniela hoped, began their own discussions among themselves in the languages of their choosing.

The members of the Centre d’Art Waza were also there and took notes on the points that were discussed. These notes were taken in French and Swahili, often containing sentences composed of both languages.[21] However, the comparison of the notes that were taken with the recordings of the oral statements showed that the mixing of the two codes was present in the notes as well as in the recordings, albeit, in a different way. From a linguistic perspective, it thus can be concluded that participants, as well as the person taking the notes, used a pluri-lingual repertoire as would be expected in Lubumbashi. The notes displayed not the mixing of codes by the participants, but rather, the mixing of codes by the person transcribing the sessions.

Le Grand Baraza

To finish the Mitaani #mapping Moments, the final event (le grand baraza) was organized by the Centre d’Art Waza for the Friday of the following week. As soon as the baraza were done, Carl and Gulda started to work together in order to edit the footage for a film that was planned to be screened to the workers. The film was characteristic in terms that, to be able to understand it, one had to have participated in the baraza. It was thus a film solely produced for those who actually participated in the project. However, a film for a broader audience is planned for the future.

The grand baraza took place in the Centre d’Art Waza facilities. Outside, in the courtyard, a stage and screen were prepared, and plastic chairs were set up for the people who would arrive in large numbers. The manager of the Centre d’Art welcomed everybody, and the event started with artist DJ Spilulu performing a musical set incorporating the audio-files recorded during the baraza. For instance, he combined Daniela’s alienated voice with extracts from the interviews. The workers listened carefully and frequently pointed to the one whose statement was heard during this live performance. This was then followed by the performances of four poetry slammers whose work addressed the current situation of the ODV members. At the same time, the accompanying exhibition was presented in the Centre de’Art building. Colby, a cartoon artist, turned the notes taken by members of the Centre d’Art Waza during the baraza into art pieces, big drawings of the statements, and accompanying illustrations that covered the walls of the exhibition room of the Centre d’Art Waza. Additionally, the film that Carl and Gulda made was screened on a television screen, and chairs were set up in the room so that people could stay and watch. Daniela observed the visitors of the exhibition rooms and talked to them, as often they discovered the topics they had brought up or the statements they made. One of the very moving moments happened when one participant addressed her and said: “Mama Daniela, “Il y a une erreur ici, je ne l’ai pas dit comme ça.” (Daniela, there is a fault here, I did not say it like that.”). Even though the mistake did not affect the overall argument during the discussion, the wrong type of working machine had been indicated, and it was important for the participant to mention it. The researchers took a red pen and corrected the art object. It was a moment when sharing authority was indeed happening.

During the screening of the film that started after the poetry slam session, the participants went back and forth between the exhibition inside and the screening outside, not paying the careful attention Daniela and Carl had hoped for. But they addressed the researchers, expressing the importance of this event. In the office, the participants that were present during the baraza could collect an envelope with the prints of pictures that Carl and Gulda took and the money for the bus transport back to the Cité Gécamines. It turned out that the screening was planned a bit too late for the participants since, due to security reasons, they needed to go back before sundown. Daniela and Carl did not consider that point as they solely thought about the darkness as a necessity for an outdoor screening.

Limits and Possibilities

The Mitaani #mapping Moments project had an experimental facet. The organizers clearly did not aim to experiment with the participants, but rather to organize the project in an experimental manner, without knowing in advance if their partners would cooperate. They accepted the possibility that there could be friction in a project based on principle of shared authority when that project was devoted to a form of academic research that their collaborators might not have any interest in. On the contrary, it was Daniela who had hoped to discuss her research questions with members of the ODV who had their own agenda and aims. Against this backdrop, Daniela’s research project cannot be labelled as having been arranged as a “shared authority” project from the beginning; the project only tried to include the partners into the analysis of preliminary analyzed data (specifically, the interviews) at a later stage. Therefore, if the researchers reflect now, back in Vienna, on the possibilities and limits of the “shared authority” approach, these reflections only cover their (academic) perception and don’t include the voices of their partners.

This social dynamic of the researchers’ endeavor mentioned earlier started almost naturally with the trigger event, which itself proved to entail many dimensions. It was an organizational meeting, a pre-test both technically and academically, and a rehearsal. It was staged in the sense of a social practice and in a physical and spatialized way; it was performed and filled with implicit and internalized as well as consciously practiced rituals. The technical equipment, especially the cameras, were both ignored and approached, even addressed and shouted at by the participants. The discussions which took place after, between the researchers, the photographer/videographer, Gulda, and Sari and Patrick, the art directors of Daniela and Carl’s collaboration, started to dissolve the boundaries between research and art practice. This happened when it became apparent, without saying, that technology had an impact on socio-political action and meaning, and artistic motives. Specific moments affected academic discourse and vice versa. This dynamic developed even further as the many baraza were held. The position and role of the researcher within the baraza was no longer solely embodied by Daniela but actively shared as the baraza themselves opened up a space for participation. Gulda, for instance, in the beginning, silently operating behind his cameras, intervened on several occasions to pose a question, make a statement or lead the discussion for a while and thus (trans)formed, altered, and enriched the discourse. So did Sari and Patrick.

This dynamic, built up during the baraza, finally culminated during the grand baraza. Artists with different backgrounds introduced and transformed discursive moments and fragments that had happened during the baraza and were captured by the cameras and microphones. Thereby they not only presented their work to an audience that would not usually come into contact with it, but they also enriched these moments and fragments with their own social experience and artistic interpretation. Through this, they created a link between contemporary life-worlds and the historical dimension of the project. The presentation of the film finally created another space for debate. People came and went, made comments on scenes, applauded and discussed or rejected them. Furthermore, seeing the baraza from a different perspective—through the lenses and cameras, and projected onto a screen—encouraged the researchers and artists to once again discuss and negotiate the many artistic and academic dimensions it entailed. For instance, Daniela’s role and performance were, in a way, objectified through the visual representation so that she, herself, became part of both artistic expression and academic discourse. Also, the decisions that Gulda and Carl made in choosing and editing scenes were discussed, in relation to the wider project, and so was the collaborative editing process itself, which was again accompanied by debates and negotiations focused on the scholarly and artistic scope and perspective of the project.

The filmic production, as a performance, guided the process of creating an artistic artifact, an academic discourse, and a social negotiation beyond the visual product. The importance and function of the film as the center of gravity of the project were thus not exhausted in the finalized, filmic, product, but also resided in its potential to aggregate and connect different forms and ways of approaching the subject matter, while also creating a space for debate and further investigations. These artistic and academic investigations do not overlap in method or purpose, but they have the potential to have an impact on each other and generate new perspectives and dimensions of the objects of investigation.

Our debates, for instance, also involved questions related to our own background, such as the choice to hold the exhibition in the gallery of the Centre d’Art Waza and to screen the movie in the courtyard of the Art Centre. We contemplated if that was too paternalistic, because we considered the gallery as the normative and right place for these events to occur. We asked ourselves if the representation of participant voices in their own neighborhood would have been more appropriate. The question remained open. However, we decided that a subsequent baraza about the baraza experience should allow space to reflect on this question with the participants. That is a plan for their next stay in Lubumbashi, as the time did not allow the researchers to realize it before departure. The group discussions triggered many topics that did not pop up in the interviews Daniela had previously conducted. Thus, during the group discussions, participants were much more in the position to take the lead than had been possible during the interviews, even though the interviews were more open than structured. Still, discussions allowed more for the communication of associative thoughts. This will be illustrated by reference to one example.

Baba Guillaume used to work as a teacher for the company in the Cité Gécamines, and he signed up for a group discussion on the topic of the roles of women.[22] On the day of this discussion, he arrived a bit earlier and handed a very neatly handwritten document to Daniela, where he noted all responsibilities of the women “à l’époque.”  Daniela had listed six points and interpreted the topic on the roles of women as domestic responsibilities that wives had to fulfill toward their husbands. In the course of the group discussion, Daniela asked Baba Guillaume to read his points to the group, consisting of one other man and six women who were wives to workers. Two kinds of hierarchies characterized the discussion. One was the respect that Baba Guillaume had among the other attendees because he was a teacher, and the other was his command in French. He acted as the leading voice in the discussion. When he was reading the points to the group, Daniela invited the others. and especially the women, to comment on them. Baba Guillaume translated the points into Swahili as he assumed that the women would better understand them in Swahili. After each point was read, Daniela asked the women if they agreed and what they would like to add to the point. They nodded in agreement and commented, ‘njo vile’ (That’s the way it is). The first point Baba Guillaume listed was the most surprising one for Daniela: “To be submissive to her husband and satisfy him in sexual need in order to fulfill the procreation that Genesis advocates.” During the interviews in the previous two years, nobody had ever mentioned sex explicitly. Baba Guillaume’s wording in French of the second part of his question cited many biblical quotations referring to the imperative to “grow and multiply” from the book of Genesis. In the Swahili translation he spoke for the women though, he omitted this reference and simply translated it into “make children”. So why did he choose French and French without any features of other codes coming into it? It was a strategic choice. First, he was addressing the other man in the group, as women who were housewives were lacking education in French beyond the basic knowledge. Second, this list, communicated in the French version, was also addressed to me. As a researcher, one is also made “use of”; we do not criticize, we rather believe that the researcher is an agent as well (if one looks at the research setting also from the perspective of action theory). But why was Daniela “used”? The traditional perception of masculinity has been threatened since workers lost their jobs. Workers lost not only their jobs but, for instance, the respect among their children due to a feeling of being powerless to fulfill duties expected of a father and husband as established in the colonial role model of earlier days. It makes sense then that Baba Guillaume would refer to a legitimate biblical quote that brought up this sensitive topic. He was able to assert that women were responsible for the fulfillment of men’s sexual needs by arguing that this corresponds to the assignment of roles in the book of Genesis.

Through this, Baba Guillaume brought up a point that was a key aspect of the struggle to define masculinity in the mining city of Lubumbashi nowadays. Also, it was only after the discussion of this point during the baraza that the two attending men started to mention that men were also supposed to have girlfriends; they would be laughed at by the others if they did not. The women, at that point, started to blame the men for having been reckless in those “good old times” even though generally the women were equally nostalgic about that time as they were generally much better off with having a husband with a salary, and a social life largely organized by the company. However, it was only during this discussion that the participants deconstructed and interpreted that picture of the perfect family that reproduced the Belgian ideology, and that was presented to Daniela during the two previous years in the interviews.


Sharing authority was probably successful in the most obvious sense during the exhibition, as mentioned above. The drawings by the artist, Colby, allowed the researchers and the members of the ODV to review topics from the baraza-discussions and to discuss how these topics were presented. This experience then triggered a common reflection on those topics. Further possibilities of the chosen approach of shared authority became apparent during the baraza when participants were taking the lead in the discussion or defining the topics they regarded as being important. Daniela and Carl consider these two aspects as crucial since they showed them that their pre-set research questions gained new, relevant dimensions thanks to the willingness of the members of the ODV to share and discuss them. They were thus convinced that it is not only worthwhile but also more productive for research results to include the views of those whose situation is the focus of the research endeavor. As Tuhiwai Smith stated: “To assume in advance that people will not be interested in, or will not understand, the deeper issues is arrogant.”[23]

Carl-Philipp Bodenstein has been working as a research fellow for the project “Housing in (Post)colonial Africa” funded by the Austrian Science Fund between (running between 2017 and 2021) and has taught several courses on urban studies and spatial theory and methods. He studied African Studies and Social Anthropology and is currently finishing his Ph.D. thesis on a “Spatial History of Livingstone, Zambia” at the Department of African Studies at the University of Vienna. His research focus and interests lie in Spatial Theory and Methods, Urban History/Anthropology, and Historical Geography.

Daniela Waldburger is Senior Lecturer at the Department of African Studies at the University of Vienna. She holds a Ph.D. (2012) in African Studies from the University of Vienna. Earlier she studied Social Anthropology, African Linguistics and General Linguistics at the University of Zurich. Since 2004 she has been teaching Swahili and Linguistics (sociolinguistics, language and power, discourse analysis, visual grammar, etc.) at the Department of African Studies. Besides her research interests in Swahili Studies, she has a strong research interest in the intertwining fields of language (mis)use and power (ab)use.


[1] This paper was written within the scope of the Austrian Science Fund granted project “Employment-tied Housing in (post)colonial Africa” (Project no. P29566-G28, Department of African Studies, University of Vienna). For further information see: housing.univie.ac.at

[2] Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies. Research and Indigenous Peoples (London: Zed Books, 2012), p. 5

[3] Carl-Philipp Bodenstein is writing his Ph.D. thesis “Building Ideology: A Spatial History of Livingstone, Zambia, throughout the Second Colonial Occupation and beyond” and has made use of visual methods including video interviews within the same superordinate project.

[4] Archive of Colonial History, Archive of Decolonisation and independent Congo, Library of Contemporary History in Tervuren; company archives of the UMHK/Gécamines in the State Archives of Belgium in Brussels.

[5] Eric Worby and Shireen Ally, “The disappointment of nostalgia: conceptualizing cultures of memory in contemporary South Africa,” Social Dynamics: A journal of African studies vol. 39, no. 3 (September 2013), p. 468.

[6] Sari Middernacht, From collective curating to sharing curatorial authority: Collaborative practices as strategies of democratization in exhibition making in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo (Johannesburg: School of Arts, Witwatersrand University. Unpublished MA Thesis, 2018).

[7] Benjamin Rubbers, “Towards a life of poverty and uncertainty? The livelihood strategies of Gécamines workers after retrenchment in the DRC,” Review of African Political Economy vol. 44, no. 152 (April 2017), p. 190.

[8] Benjamin Rubbers, “Claiming workers’ right in the Democratic Republic of Congo: the case of the Collectif des ex-agents de la Gécamines,” Review of African Political Economy 37, no. 125 (September 2010), p.330; Rubbers, “Towards a life,” p. 190

[9] Rubbers, “Claiming workers,” p. 331

[10] These concepts are related to each other and can include several sub-concepts.

[11] See e.g., Donatien Dibwe dia Mwembu, “La Perception du kazi (travail salarié) par les travailleurs de la Gécamines (1910-2010),” La Société congolaise face à la modernité (1700-2010): mélanges eurafricains offerts à Jean-Luc Vellut, edited by Mathieu Zana Etambala and Pamphile Mabiala Mantuba-Ngoma, (Paris/Tervuren: L’Harmattan, 2017), pp. 161–176. Johannes Fabian, “Kazi: Conceptualizations of Labor in a Charismatic Movement among Swahili-Speaking Workers,” Cahiers d’études africaines, vol. 13, no. 50 (1973), pp. 293–325. Pierre Petit and Georges Mulumbwa Mutambwa, “‘La Crise’: Lexicon and Ethos of the second Economy in Lubumbashi.” Africa, vol. 74, no. 4 (2005), pp. 467–487.

[12] Of course, a diverse range of anchor point to identity exists, such as social categories as a blue-collar worker or member of the cadre, place of origin of the first generation that moved to Lubumbashi, gender specific categories, etc. For the discursive analysis of concepts of identity see e.g. Mary Bucholtz and Kira Hall, “Language and Identity,” A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology, edited by Alessandro Duranti, Alessandro (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2004) pp. 269-294. Mary Bucholtz and Kira Hall, “Identity and interaction: a sociocultural linguistic approach,” Discourse Studies, vol. 4-5, no. 7 (2005), pp. 585-614. Ellinor Ochs, “Constructing Social Identity: A Language Socialization Perspective,” Research on Language and Social Interaction, vol. 26, no. 3 (1993), p.287-306. Daniela Waldburger, “Komorisch im transnationalen Kontext,” (chapter nine) GPS03 (Grazer Plurilingualismus Studien), (Graz: Plurilingualism Research Unit treffpunktsprachen, University of Graz, 2015). Daniela Waldburger, “Social identity/identities among plurilingual Comorians in Marseille (France),” Mobility and Minorities in Africa—Nova Collectanea Africana Collana del Centro di Studi Africani in Sardegna, vol. 3. (2018), edited by Michele Carboni, pp. 193 – 214.

[13] The UMHK and Gécamines had different mining sites that were grouped, e.g. in the Southern group.

[14] Bo Stråth, “Ujamaa. The Evasive Translation of an Elusive Concept,” Doing Conceptual History in Africa, edited by Rhiannon Stephens and Axel Fleisch (New York/Oxford: Berghahn, 2016) p. 186.

[15] See, for example: Michael Frisch. A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History. Suny Series in Oral and Public History (New York: State University of New York Press, 1990). Michael Frisch, “Commentary—Sharing Authority: Oral History and the Collaborative Process,” The Oral History Review, vol. 30, no. 1 (2003), pp. 111–113. Steven High, “Sharing Authority: An Introduction,” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes, vol. 43, no. 1 (2009), pp. 12–34. Daniel Kerr, “‘We Know What the Problem Is’: Using Oral History to Develop a Collaborative Analysis of Homelessness from the Bottom Up,” The Oral History Review, vol. 30, no. 1 (2003), pp. 27–45. Sari Middernacht, From collective curating to sharing curatorial authority: Collaborative practices as strategies of democratization in exhibition making in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo (Johannesburg: School of Arts, Witwatersrand University. Unpublished MA-Thesis, 2018). Alessandro Portelli, “Living Voices: The Oral History Interview as Dialogue and Experience,” The Oral History Review, vol. 45, no. 2 (2018), pp. 239–248. Alicia J Rouverol, “Collaborative Oral History in a Correctional Setting: Promise and Pitfalls,” The Oral History Review, vol. 30, no. 1 (2003), pp. 61–85. Linda Shopes, “Commentary—Shared Authority,” The Oral History Review, vol. 30, no. 1 (2003), pp. 103–110. Lorraine Sitiza, “A Shared Authority: An Impossible Goal?,” The Oral History Review, vol. 30, no. 1 (2003), pp. 87–101. Alistair Thomson, “Introduction—Sharing Authority: Oral History and the Collaborative Process,” The Oral History Review, vol. 30, no. 1 (2003), pp. 23–26.

[16] Pierre Bourdieu, “Narzisstische Reflexivität und wissenschaftliche Reflexivität,” Kultur, soziale Praxis, Text: Die Krise der ethnographischen Repräsentation, edited by Eberhard Berg and Martin Fuchs (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1993), p.371.

[17] Caffe/Hikiji (2012) theorized this approach in a collaborative project together with citizens of Cida de Tiradentes in São Paulo, where sharing was practiced “in the field,” “in the editing suite” and “on the air”.

[18] Daniela was in regular contact with the board members of the ODV since the beginning of research in 2017.

[19] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z4GtyCvlCg&t=219s

[20] For a discussion of the role of Swahili in Lubumbashi see e.g. Aurélia Ferrari, Marcel Kalunga and Georges Mulumbwa, Le Swahili de Lubumbashi (Paris: Karthala, 2014), p.107. Daniela Waldburger, “Swahili in Eastern Congo: Status, Role and Attitudes,” in Pluricentric Languages and Non-Dominant Varieties Worldwide, edited by Rudolf Muhr (Frankfurt am Main & Bern & Bruxelles & New York & Oxford & Warszawa & Wien: Peter Lang, 2016), p.149.

[21] The occurrence of two or more languages within a sentence, utterance or speech event is often described as code-switching or code-mixing. The linguistic analysis of the codes used is beyond of the scope of this paper.

[22] The name of the participant has been anonymized.

[23] Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies, p.17