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Accepted Paper:

Building into the sea: on banking practices and ambivalent water-waste bonds in Freetown, Sierra Leone  


Lorenz Gosch (Martin-Luther-Universitaet Halle-Wittenberg)

Paper short abstract:

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, banking is a practice to create new land to build on. It works by pushing away sea water using mixtures of waste and mud. A matter ambivalent and controversial, it offers interesting perspectives on themes such as shifting narratives of health and safety or responsibility.

Paper long abstract:

In this contribution, I engage with a practice I came across during my fieldwork in Freetown, Sierra Leone. This practice is called banking and it describes the creation of buildable ground in(to) the sea. The spatial context of this is an urban space jammed in-between steep hillsides and the Atlantic Ocean. Ever since the civil war in the 1990s Freetown is growing and the city, that complicated object, can be found in a continuous state of emergence. In its different nuances, Lefebvre's "production of space" is a rather intense matter there. Banking, now, plays an important role above all in the city's slum communities which are often located at the very verge of the sea. Residents use materials such as mud and - most notably - waste to "push away" the sea water, the technique of banking being manifold. Banking is also a matter of controversy and ambivalence. Accentuations in the formulation of banking as a problematic include issues of (ir)responsibility, owner- and citizenship, the right to the city, disaster risks, urban growth and so forth. I suggest that it is worth taking a close look at banking practices in Freetown as banking as a point of reference is such powerful indicator of themes which can be associated with both the local as well as the global. The waste-water bonds encapsulated in banking are not a smooth form of recycling and appropriation. They are saturated with friction and ambivalence concerning health and safety in complicated interpretive embeddings.

Panel P162
Wet horizons: hydrosocial re-articulations in the Anthropocene [EnviroAnt]