Suffering peacefully: living with adversity in Chiawa, Zambia

  • Charlotte Sarah Harland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This study examines the marginalisation of the remote Chiawa community over many decades. It shows how, despite persistent adversity and insecurity, the community derives resilience, stability and meaning through strong cultural structures (including witchcraft beliefs, traditional leadership and Christian churches). However, the analysis suggests that high levels of dependence on cultural structures in circumstances of marginalisation prompts their configuration in a manner that entrenches isolation, further diminishing prospects of improving livelihoods or integrating more closely into the mainstream of national dialogue and identity.

The theoretical basis for this study combines political economy and actor-oriented frameworks to analyse interface between actors and structures from local and national levels, developing a detailed understanding of how actors are able to construct meaning and attach value to their actions and experience. National level analysis describes the unequal distribution of welfare and resources, showing how power structures restrict the agency that marginalised people command. In contrast, local level analysis identifies alternative avenues for agency, showing how interface with local structures provides opportunities that shape the actions and choices that people make. Tracking the linkages between these levels over time creates insights into how people interpret and respond to possibilities of change.

The research provides lessons for thinking about poverty and change beyond the research community. It demonstrates how combining sociological and political analyses can describe both poverty and indeed people's lives within complex social, political and cultural contexts. Whilst local cultural structures appear to create political settlements and social order that both compensates for but inadvertently entrenches marginalisation, the thesis highlights the need to distinguish cause and effect carefully. It is argued that whilst cultural structures may appear to provide a means of managing external hostility, they should nonetheless be principally understood as a tool for marginalisation by those who consequently enjoy greater power.

Date of Award18 Jun 2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJ Allister Mcgregor (Supervisor) & P G Bevan (Supervisor)

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