Anthropological Approaches to Urban Africa
Katja Werthmann (University of Leipzig)
Paper short abstract:
The contribution of anthropologists to the study of urban Africa has been overlooked or forgotten both within and outside the discipline. This paper reviews anthropological contributions to the study of urban Africa since the 1930s.
Paper long abstract:
Anthropological research in urban Africa covers a broad range of topics, spaces and social worlds. However, the contribution of anthropologists to the study of urban Africa has been overlooked or forgotten both within and outside the discipline. This paper reviews anthropological contributions to the study of urban Africa since the 1930s. Anthropologists introduced methodological innovations and made specific contributions to the study of cities as life-worlds and to topics such as ethnicity, gender relations, housing, migration or urban sociality. The pioneers of urban anthropology in Africa were female scholars like Monica (Hunter) Wilson and Ellen Hellmann who looked at informal economies, changing social relations and emerging middle class aspirations among labour migrants well before the researchers at the Rhodes Livingstone Institute. Other important early contributions include Balandier's and Miner's studies about Brazzaville and Timbuktu. These and other anthropological approaches to cities in Africa anticipated perspectives and topics that only later became part of the anthropological mainstream: the attention to individual experiences, the focus on new forms of social organization rather than on "culture", the appropriation of modernity through material culture and alternative life-styles, and the application of unconventional methods.
Rethinking urban theory from African cities