Writing the world from an African metropolis: thinking with the elusive Indian Ocean
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).
Spatial theory and African urban studies