Accepted paper:

Stuck in the Boom: Scrap Metal Dealers and "Exceptional Regulation" in Nairobi

Authors:

Sophie Schramm (Utrecht University)
Amiel Bize (Universität Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

This paper uses scrap metal trading as a lens onto the opportunities and exclusions of Nairobi's building boom, and onto the city's regime of "planning by exception." We argue that a regime of "exceptional regulation" consolidates marginal spaces and practices in the rapidly changing city.

Paper long abstract:

This paper uses scrap metal trading as a lens onto the opportunities and exclusions of Nairobi's current building boom, and in particular onto the city's regime of "planning by exception." Accelerated road and condominium construction have dramatically changed much of Nairobi. Much of this construction is permitted through exceptions to regulations, creating a scenario in which private development is rapidly outpacing the planning and provision of essential infrastructures (among others, waste management). The position of scrap metal dealers makes some of the contradictions of this regime of planning visible. On the one hand, the construction sites dotting the city's neighborhoods provide a wealth of scrap for dealers to gather—and dealers, in turn, provide an essential recovery service (allowing scrap to become construction materials again). On the other hand, in these increasingly exclusive spaces, "informal" business like scrap metal heaps are no longer welcome. Thus the boom simultaneously grants scrap dealers opportunities for accumulation and makes the conditions of that accumulation highly uncertain. Describing the history and everyday tactics of one scrap heap in a rapidly transforming neighborhood, we trace the intersection of Nairobi's material and socio-political transformations. The paper both draws on and moves beyond Ananya Roy's concept of "informalization" by describing how scrap dealers are at once marginalized and given opportunities through a specific regime of "exceptional regulation." We argue that ultimately this regime of exception consolidates marginal spaces and practices in the rapidly changing city, such that scrap dealers are "stuck in the boom."

panel Econ09
Inside a construction boom: politics, responsibility and the temporalities of urban development