African cities are a challenge to urban theory. They are either thought of as the other of Western cities or as ordinary as any city worldwide. This panel juxtaposes different assessments of African cities and discusses how they informed and advanced urban theory.
Africa's extremely rapid urbanisation has stirred heated scholarly debates in the humanities and the social sciences. Dissatisfied with case-study approaches that implicitly consider African cities as the other of Western cities, African cities are, on the one hand, increasingly studied as 'ordinary cities' whose growth and urbanity follow the same basic patterns as elsewhere. This strand of thinking focuses on the heterogeneity of everyday urban life and frames it as normal social practice. On the other hand, diverse trajectories of African cities show that urbanisation is not a uniform process that produces the same results all over the world but rather a distinct, 'urban' social space that the people recognise as different from that of other cities and identify with. The infrastructure, the economies and livelihoods, and also the dynamics of urban social and cultural life of African cities are perceived and conceived as basically different from those of other areas - and are sometimes declared to represent the future of urbanity worldwide. As all interpretation is bound to disciplinary, professional, normative or aesthetic perspectives, this panel aims at juxtaposing different assessments of African cities and how they inform our understanding of the urban. It invites contributions from all disciplinary and professional backgrounds, in particular history, art history, geography, architecture, anthropology, sociology, and political science. The speakers are asked to reflect upon their own take on African cities and how it has influenced their theoretical comprehension of the urban as a general, social, cultural and aesthetic phenomenon.