This panel focusses on the unspectacular middle ground between metropolises and small towns in Africa, that has largely been neglected in urban studies. It looks at ordinary urban practices in secondary cities and how its inhabitants imagine their city.
Most studies on urbanity in Africa focus on mega-cities, whereas secondary cities, the unspectacular middle ground between metropolises and small towns, have largely been neglected. However, as the World City Report by the UN (2016) demonstrates, more and more people live in secondary cities which act as nodal points between the rural and the urban. Further, due to decentralization processes their political and financial independence increases. Theoretically, secondary cities have typically been approached through metaphors, for example by labelling them as 'shadow cities' (de Boeck, Cassiman, and Van Wolputte 2009) or describing them as 'disappearing into ruin and decay' (Myers and Murray 2006). Yet, Bell and Jayne (2009) are right in stating that small and secondary cities are as urban as metropolises. If we overlook urban forms that emerge in secondary cities, the image of urbanity is incomplete. By rejecting conceptualisations that focus solely on size, secondary cities cannot easily be grasped. One characteristic is their geographical distance to the heart of the state, the highest administrative level. Therefore, secondary cities often breed forms of governance that result in specific modes of state-society interactions that would not work in capital cities. Our aim in this panel is to look at ordinary urban practices in secondary cities and how their inhabitants imagine their city. How do the urban 'rhythm' (de Boeck 2015) and various forms of 'encounter and distanciation' (Förster 2013) in secondary look like? We especially invite empirical papers but also those which reflect theoretically and conceptually on secondary cities.