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Accepted Paper:

"Bad guys" imagining a "good life": negotiations around individuality and belonging in downtown Kampala  
Anna Baral (Århus University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper introduces a group of Kampala vendors accused of triggering violent urban unrest and discusses how their transgressive behaviors do not contradict a struggle for a “Good Life” and claims of belonging to disparate moral communities in and beyond the city.

Paper long abstract:

A record of riots, unfavorable locations and sometimes illicit economies make African urban markets the dystopian targets of urban development and badly affect the vendors' name. This has happened in Kisekka Market (Kampala), destroyed in 2014, whose workers were publicly nicknamed bayaaye (sing. muyaaye), loosely translated as hooligans or "bad guys".

In the Luganda language, the muyaaye is more generally the one who "has no rules" and disrupts the reproduction of norms within a community. Rioting, like Kisekka workers have often done to protect their market from evictions; cheating, in love or business, to achieve a status; or behaving egoistically, to survive urban competition, are all examples of norms transgression within various normative systems of reference (citizenship, kinship or tradition).

However, deviation from collectively held norms does not necessarily imply a declaration of independence from one's communiti(es) of belonging: a rioting, cheating or hustling muyaaye does not inevitably abdicate his role as worker, citizen or kin.

This emerges clearly from the case study of "Good Life", a self-named group of Kisekka workers mobilizing for months before the demolition. Daily discussions about their gloomy future constituted a "moral laboratory" (Mattingly 2014), where hope and a fulfilling life were intersubjectively imagined and striven for, despite the physical and "moral breakdown" (Zigon 2007) represented by the demolition.

The paper shows how transgressive behaviors, triggered specifically by the urban condition, may coexist with profound concerns with one's communit(ies) of belonging, in and beyond the city.

Panel P120
Individuality and the making of urban lives
  Session 1