Accepted paper:

Rethinking Mainstream Urban Theory


Martin Murray (University of Michigan)

Paper short abstract:

Making sense of urban transformation in Africa requires that we turn away from the received wisdom of mainstream urban theorizing. We need a new conceptual vocabulary to unpack realities on the ground.

Paper long abstract:

As a general rule, mainstream theorizing about cities in Africa has tended to focus on what is lacking: stable markets for landed property, formal rules shaping the use of urban space, efficient regulatory regimes and good governance, and workable infrastructure. Framed through the lens of the 'slum' and informality', cities in Africa just "do not seem to work" in accordance with the modernist (and high-modernist) imaginary of efficiency, rationality, and predictability. How do we theorize about cities in Africa that rejects and moves beyond the inherited dualisms of First-World and Third World, formality and informality, and dynamic and static? Rethinking urban transformation in Africa requires a revised conceptual vocabulary that enables us to make sense of cities "outside the West" as objects of inquiry in their own right.

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Social Anthropology
Rethinking urban theory from African cities