Env04


Spatial theory and African urban studies 
Convenors:
Ato Quayson (New York University)
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Stream:
Environment and Geography
Location:
David Hume, Lecture Theatre B
Sessions:
Friday 14 June, 8:45-10:15, 10:45-12:15 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

This panel proposes to look at the ways in which new and old spatial theories might be applied to African urban studies without necessarily converting African studies to mere instantiations of such theories.

Long Abstract

What passes for theory in African Urban Studies is dominated predominantly by cases and examples from Western cities and critics. Thus we find that Western theory is drawn upon while African cities tend to elude much of this theory. Without necessarily debunking such theories, the question that needs to be asked urgently is what happens when we use African cities not as mere raw materials but as the very starting points for theorizing the urban. What might focusing on traffic congestion in Lagos, lorry parks in Accra, food vending in Zanzibar and soup kitchens in Johannesburg do for how we theorize the African urban. And in what ways does this theorizing help to illuminate the conditions of global South and global North cities?

The following are potential topics:

- How are Western spatial theories to be revised for application to African cities?

-- What are the forms of spatial thinking available in African oral and philosophical discourses that might assist in thinking about the African urban?

-- What is space in relation to the configuration of modern and traditional spaces in cities?

-- What might the differences between spaces of assembly (lorry parks, train stations, football stadiums, etc.) and those of commerce (markets) contribute to a theory of urban space in Africa?

-- What is the relationship between politics and spatial relations?

-- How does urban planning create particularly recalcitrant and enduring spatial logics for African cities?

Abstracts of 300 words to be sent to Ato Quayson <aq10@nyu.edu>.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Sarah Balakrishnan (Harvard University)

Paper short abstract:

In colonial Gold Coast, waste had been "unowned property." Whereas the British state refused to take ownership over waste, so too did African citizens. Thus, waste formed an interstitial category between public and private, moving on its own, spoiling town land and obfuscating segregation lines.

Paper long abstract:

In 19th century Europe, a cornerstone of liberal modernity was the separation of the "public" and "private" domains. Whereas the public was considered the foundation of government, the private sphere was regarded as a complimentary modernizing force, developing society by way of independent businesses, private property, and domestic households. As a result, imperialists brought this division with them into the colony. European law-makers and urban planners reorganized all land and sovereignty according to a public/private divide. With exceptions. In the Gold Coast, British imperialists refused to own waste. Unlike Lagos and Freetown, whose land had been ceded to Britain at colonization, Britain owned none of the Gold Coast towns. How, then, could the government manage sewage? I examine the problem of waste in the Gold Coast through the lens of "unowned property." Being neither private nor public, waste moved seemingly on its own, spoiling town land, breaching segregation divides, and undermining property lines. Sewers, latrines, night-soil collection and fencing all formed post-facto solutions to urban topographies being radically reshaped by "waste lands." Private houses of people "gone to the bush" would be broken into and used as latrines. Building constructions would halt due to overnight deposits of waste. While Gold Coast communities claimed that the government was obligated to manage sanitation, British authorities argued that waste was the private property of individuals, and therefore, their responsibility. The result was an urban landscape held prisoner by its own trash—a problem that has institutionally continued into the postcolonial period.

Author:

Irene Brunotti (University of Leipzig)

Paper short abstract:

Thinking of nafasi, a Swahili word meaning place, and time, pointing at the future (opportunity) and stretching back to the past (the place we occupy), this study looks at the urban space created by the group of mapapasi (loosely translated 'go-between'), and its working practices in Zanzibar Town.

Paper long abstract:

Let us imagine that instead of the configuration of modern and traditional spaces, there were an urban space, porous, horizontal, mobile in its fixity, and fix in its mobility, determined by the very practice of the youth inhabiting it. Let us think of this space as a "becoming", an in-between movement, where moment of "non-activity" do not exist, a space of the "unknown modern" discovered and learned through known ancient and persisting practices. Let us think of it as nafasi, a Swahili word meaning place, and time, pointing at the future (opportunity) and stretching back to the past (the place we occupy), and let us think of it in the context of Zanzibar Town. This study looks at the nafasi of a sociocultural group, mapapasi (sing. papasi - loosely translated 'go-between'), and its working practices. Neither tourist guides, nor street-vendors, 1990s Zanzibari youth, initially from Stone Town, then also from Ng'ambo (the other side [of the city]) were soon to become reference points, albeit informal, both for the government and for the guests. Mapapasi were in fact sort of mobile landmarks because of being reference points, yet mobile because of their very activity of focused wandering in Zanzibar Town, "redirecting" the guests' ways. As mobile landmarks, they embodied the variability within the apparently defined boundaries (spatial, social, religious and linguistic) that characterize urban Zanzibar; at the threshold of (in)formality, (im)purity and (il)legitimacy, these young urbanites searched for, perhaps (re)inventing, the nafasi where to belong to in the modern town.

Author:

Domenico Cristofaro (Università degli Studi di Bologna)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will focus on the history of Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region of Ghana. Drawing upon the indigenous concepts of dwelling, the paper will show how settlements were planned. The aim is to prove the reliability of the indigenous settlement pattern as a tool of analysis for the case study.

Paper long abstract:

The paper will focus on the historical development of the city of Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region of Ghana, from its first contacts with European explorers to the implementation of British colonial rule. The aim of the paper is to show how the urban planning of the town was not entirely the product of colonial rule, but rather the result of several factors, among which the indigenous planning and socio-political organization, the centralization of political power and the response to British urban policies. The paper will argue that neither a village, nor even the very concept of it, existed in the area. Drawing upon the indigenous concepts of dwelling, the paper will show how settlements were conceived and planned. The definition of the patterns of the indigenous settlement (teŋa) will then be linked to the political context and its changing form during colonial rule. The paper is intended to show the reliability and potentiality of the indigenous settlement pattern as a tool of analysis for the case study. The paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Bolgatanga with both qualitative and quantitative approaches. In addition to this, an archival research has been done in the Ghana Public Records and Archive Administration Departments in Accra, Tamale and Bolgatanga, in the White Fathers Archive in Rome, and in the National Archives in London. The paper is part of an ongoing PhD research project on the economic and urban history of the Upper East Region of Ghana.

Author:

Irit Eguavoen (University of Bonn)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic data from Abidjan, we will challenge global North notions of waterfront development and suggest an African twist to the concept, which stress the different historical trajectories and legal issues that have turned waterfronts into ´social problem spaces´.

Paper long abstract:

While waterfront development in the global North began during the 1970s on abandoned underused docklands and polluted industrial areas, investment in public waterfronts in Sub-Sahara Africa has taken momentum since 2000 during the second, now global wave of waterfront development. Before, public waterfronts have rather been perceived as dirty backyards of cities with pollution problems and over-crowded settlements. Waterfronts in Abidjan are public. Many were originally neither included in planning nor settled upon to get around swampy grounds, inundation and pollution. Due to the spatial division of the colonial city on the one hand and the port/ industrial zones on the other hand, workers auto-constructed spontaneous settlements by the water. As a result of public housing policy after independence, these settlements turned into accommodation for poor urbanites and further grew in size and number. They also accommodated people displaced by the Ivorian civil war. Since 2011, the Abidjan city government implemented evictions using the ´quarters under risk´ argument. Based on ethnographic data, we will challenge global North notions of waterfront development and suggest an African twist to the concept, which stress the different historical trajectories and legal issues that have turned waterfronts into ´social problem spaces´, as well as their increasing environmental vulnerability.

Author:

Zoë Goodman (SOAS)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on everyday eating practices in the Kenyan port of Mombasa, this paper challenges conceptualisations of African urban space as inherently connected or disconnected to the world beyond, suggesting that spatial theory should be grounded in the imaginaries of city residents themselves.

Paper long abstract:

In their influential contribution to theorising the urban from Johannesburg, Mbembe & Nuttall observe the continued tendency to "describe Africa as an object apart from the world", and decry the systematic inattention to its "embeddedness in multiple elsewheres" (2004: 348). This is a stark contrast to the literature on the East African littoral, where city life is typically explained in terms of its entrenched connectivity to the Indian Ocean realm (Kresse 2012, Loimeier & Seesemann 2006). Rather than assuming African urban space as inherently connected or disconnected to the world beyond, this paper argues that spatial theory in and from the continent must be grounded in the imaginaries of city residents themselves. Drawing on examples of everyday eating practices in the Kenyan port of Mombasa, I explore the spatial (dis)contiguities bundled up in samosas and other deep-fried snacks. Charting the ebb and flow of the Indian Ocean - its emergence and absence in Mombasan consumption - challenges binary notions of spatial (dis)connection and offers an empirical basis for the articulation of 'cityness' (Simone 2009).

Author:

Nicole Baron (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar)

Paper short abstract:

This paper re-interprets urban resilience theory through 'on-the-ground' data from Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. In doing so, I am able to provincialize existing 'mainstream' resilience theory. Furthermore, contextualized theory might improve urban planning in African cities.

Paper long abstract:

Adapting to change has become a popular topic in urban studies in times of climate change, rural urban migration, and global economy. Particularly, the concept urban resilience provides a promising conceptual framework for research and urban practice. However, its theoretical conceptualization takes place on the basis of western cities and western researchers. African cities, on the other hand, have not found much attention in the mainstream resilience discourse despite them frequently being the setting for so-called resilience strategies. While these strategies might be well-intended, they repeat the same mistake as previous 'slum'-fighting or sustainability strategies: they create and reinforce a dichotomy between 'proper' western cities and 'underdeveloped' African cities.

Based on work and research in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa in the past ten years, I challenge the appropriateness of the existing resilience paradigm. They do not reflect the actors, spaces, activities - in short, the urbanity - of African cities. My proposal for a new, context-sensitive resilience theory is to start developing it based on the lives of the people in an African city. While this approach has already been successfully tested in critical urban studies, it has not yet been applied in urban resilience studies.

Such an appropriation is meaningful because it bears the chance of developing theories that actually have something to do with the realities on the ground. Such contextualized theories might lead to more realistic urban politics and plans. Because in African cities, urban practice has an uncanny history of falling short of its targets.

Author:

Kaue Lopes dos Santos (University of Sao Paulo, Brazil)

Paper short abstract:

At the beginning of the 21st century, activities related to the recycling of e-waste have become extremely common in Accra. Therefore, I aim to debate to what extent such activities can be analyzed according to the theory of urban economy circuits, developed by Milton Santos in the 1970s.

Paper long abstract:

At the beginning of the 21st century, activities related to the recycling of e-waste have become extremely common in Agbogbloshie, a neighborhood located in Accra (Ghana). However, the great part of the e-waste has been imported from developed countries, contrary to the Basel Convention resolution of 1989.

In Agbogbloshie, hundreds of workers are engaged in a number of activities related to the recycling of electronic objects, creating a real global value chain in which a precarious set of techniques prevails. Thus, these activities provide several recycled minerals (such as copper, gold and silver) to the international market.

Generally referred to as "urban mining", these activities provides to the international market a specific type of good that I named "recommodity".

Therefore, I aim to debate to what extent such activities can be analyzed according to the theory of urban economy circuits, developed by the Brazilian geographer Milton Santos in the 1970s.

Author:

Gilbert Siame (University of Zambia)

Paper short abstract:

This paper uses primary and secondary data to analyse the configurations of power and politics in waste management systems and how these create and sustain the waste crisis in Lusaka City. The paper argues that theorizing the urban needs to draw on power and politics in spatial theory.

Paper long abstract:

Solid Waste Management (SWM) is a challenging aspect of urban management in African cities as elsewhere in the urban global South. Solid waste in most African cities has emerged as a crisis for local communities, state and local governments, and environmental protection agencies. With most African cities rapidly urbanizing, managing waste has become a significant challenge and in need for prioritized action by stakeholders. Further, study of waste management practices and systems in African cities presents significant potential for a nuanced understanding of the role of power and politics in spatial configurations of urban systems. As of 2017, the Lusaka City Council (LCC) indicates that the City of Lusaka generates more than one million tons of waste annually and only about 30-40% of that is collected and taken to the officially designated dumpsite. When compared to waste management practices, successes and pitfalls in the region, Lusaka has a noticeable waste management crisis. This paper is based on both primary and secondary data to analyse the configurations of power and politics in waste management systems and how these create and sustain the waste crisis in the City. The paper uses empirical evidence on manifestations of power relations and political rationality to advance an argument that theorizing the urban needs to draw on the unfinished business of power and politics in spatial theory. The paper hopes to generate an intellectual debate more on power and political rationalities and less on technical capabilities in understanding urban crises and how to address them.