Anth14
Rethinking urban theory from African cities

Convenors:
Jennifer Hart (Wayne State University)
Martin Murray (University of Michigan)
Lalli Metsola (University of Helsinki)
Stream:
Social Anthropology
Location:
Appleton Tower, Lecture Theatre 4
Sessions:
Thursday 13 June, 8:45-10:15, 10:45-12:15

Short abstract:

The aim of this panel is to destabilize the way that conventional urban studies literature has theorized cities and urbanization in Africa. In this panel, we seek to explore alternative frameworks that move beyond conventional tropes of slums and informality as registers of urban dysfunctionality.

Long abstract:

The aim of this panel is to destabilize the way that conventional urban studies literature has theorized cities and urbanization in Africa. For the most part, mainstream urban theories lay claim to the universal applicability of their concepts and categories as a way of explaining patterns of urbanization on a global scale. In particular, they operate with universalizing models that seek to impose a "one-size-fits-all" conceptual framework as a way of accounting for the trajectories of urbanism in Africa. By starting with the premise that "cities in Africa just don't work" (properly or efficiently), mainstream urban theories and planning practice offer no real understanding of the particular dynamics of African urbanism, but instead provide rather bland and predictable formulaic solutions to alleged dysfunctionalities. In this panel, we seek to explore alternative frameworks that move beyond the conventional tropes of slums and informality as registers of urban dysfunctionality in Africa. Recent calls for decentering Western theories have made some headway in rethinking urbanism in Africa. Scholars operating largely through a poststructuralist lens have promoted a distinctly "southern theory" (Connell), arguing that "seeing from the South" (Watson, Comaroff and Comaroff) provides an alternative vantage-point which undermines the exalted position of Western theory. By interrogating these alternative frameworks and others, this panel explores the potential for rethinking urban theory from African cities.