Urban technologies and technologies of urbanity in Africa
Date and Start Time 30 June, 2017 at 16:00
Technology plays a central role in the making of African cities. How is technology shaping urban spaces and identities in Africa? And how does urban life on the continent shape technology and innovation?
The wicked problems of Africa cities are often formulated as problems of technology; lacking infrastructure, lacking qualified personnel to repair and maintain systems of communication, mobility, housing, health or trade. Solutions have conventionally been formulated as a need to apply and implement expertise and technological systems from elsewhere in order to make up for a technological deficit. More recently, researchers have begun to focus not on the technologies that are said to be lacking but on the technologies that are actually in use and which have shaped the development and everyday lives in Africa's diverse urban spaces. New and important questions are been asked about "local" innovation, "creolization" of imported technologies, maintenance, reuse and sustainability and not least about the role of technologies in the making of urban identities and forms of expertise and entrepreneurship. The burgeoning interest and growing literature has been interdisciplinary from the outset spanning across history, anthropology, geography, urban studies, STS and beyond. The panel aims to contribute to establishing a solid platform for this important interdisciplinary debate and invites papers that address the theoretical as well as empirical questions about urbanity and technology in Africa.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Smartness from Below - Deconstructing 'the Smart City' - Ethnographic Notes from Kinshasa
I attempt to counter the ethnocentric assumptions of being smart in the city by paying attention to vernaculars about 'being smart' in Kinshasa. In order to understand how people, anywhere, live with technology, we need to remain open
to the polysemy of technology, innovation, and creativity.
In this paper, I propose to explore the social contours of technological creativity through the rubric of "smartness", a concept intimately tied to innovation. What does it mean to be "smart" in Kinshasa? Who is smart? And who is not? How does mastery over entering technologies relate to local repertoires of authority, power, and prestige? I thus attempt to unsettle the ethnocentric assumptions of "being smart in the city". By focusing on practices on Kinshasa's streets, in households, markets, and hotels, I show how Kinois engage with technologies, how they combine various registers of expertise and creativity, and how these in turn combine to produce variegated ways of "being smart in the city". The paper is a methodological and epistemological experiment in which I call for attention for semantic, social, and technological complexity, irreducible to one single form or meaning. The (scientific) challenge is to remain attentive to the polysemy of technology, innovation, and creativity, as well as the contiguity of meanings, practices, and experts.
Chasing 'non-consuming' electricity meters in Maputo: Prepayment technology and the disciplining of unruly African urban lives
The paper looks at Maputo’s electric grid to examine the folding of urban space and livelihoods into the design and maintenance of prepayment technology in the provision of electricity. It draws on intellectual contributions from Anthropology, Geography and STS and on ongoing fieldwork since 2013.
The introduction of prepayment technology across Africa is slowly reshaping how electricity is provided and consumed, and reshaping the urbanity of African cities in its wake, albeit not always with benefits to improved energy justice. Research on the fragmented and often exclusionary access to prepaid electricity, important as it is, tends to neglect the intricate daily work of maintenance and re-assemblage of the electric grid to prevent blackouts (cf. Graham and Thrift 2007, Out of Order). This is particularly the case in African cities where infrastructural and technical deficits, compounded with urban informality, poverty, and corruption, make the work of electricity provision a rather challenging socio-technical problem.
This paper examines the constant everyday work of maintenance and re-assemblage of the prepaid electric grid in Maputo, Mozambique to investigate how the city's urbanity and residents' livelihoods are folded into the design and maintenance of its infrastructure. It focuses on the labor of workers of the national electricity company who crisscross Maputo daily to chase after 'non-consuming' prepayment meters - meters that have not been topped up for a long time, either as the result of faulty operation, tampering, or disconnection. The paper shows how this continuous work of finding 'non-consuming' meters constitutes a pragmatic approach to disciplining Maputo's unruly urban and social condition without ever seeking to fully taming or fixing its 'lacks'. The paper concludes with a reflection on what a socio-technical approach to the maintenance of electricity infrastructure has to offer to the theorization of Africa's urbanization and urban livelihoods.
African Cities and Mobile Financial Technologies: Exlporing Local Ecosystems of Innovation
The paper explores the centrality of mobile-phone based financial technologies in the social and economic lives of African cities. What are the human, material and ideational components and broader impact of these mobile ecosystems of innovation?
Over two billion people live outside the formal financial sector. Many of the new financial technologies that have a potential to expand financial inclusion in Africa focus on mediating the growing mobility and facilitating ties over geographical distance and among increasingly diverse consumer groups. This paper looks at mobile money as one of the most prominent and successful novel financial technologies in Africa that is reconfiguring urban spaces, relationships, and livelihoods. Mobile money has become central in the grassroots economies in many parts of the developing world, creating new creative ways for people to send and save money, but also reshaping conceptual and social relationships. Sending mobile remittances in Africa constitutes an important bond between urban migrants and their families in the countryside, altering urban-rural dynamics and impacting livelihoods on both sides. Comparing mobile money use and impact among urban consumers in three East African countries - Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, the paper argues that the dynamics of urban financialization through mobile money entail a complex interplay between formal and informal institutions, actors, and financial practices. It roots the phenomenon in local innovation, creativity, and existing patterns of money management. The paper analyzes the constellations of actors who form the 'ecosystems of mobile financialization', including telcos, banks, money transfer companies, MNO agents and other financial intermediaries, urban entrepreneurs and mobile money customers, but also regulators and development policy experts. It reveals how in these financial ecosystems, urban livelihoods and identities are redefined by a plurality of financial practices, knowledge, and institutions.
Title: DUMSOR, or "do we have lights?" - mapping flickering patterns of electricity and its absence in Accra
Electricity plays a central role in the making of African cities. How is the absence and presence of electricity shaping middle class identities in Ghana?
Electricity plays a central role in the making of African cities. Since its discovery, this technology has successfully positioned itself as a prime mover in social change so much so that it was revered a goddess (Smith 1994, 13) and magic (Rupp 2013). Sadly electricity supply is unreliable and successive Governments have struggled to deliver it in Ghana. In 2015, some households went for as long as 48 hours on scheduled and unscheduled power cuts, systematic electricity rationing and rotation schedules. These necessitated massive changes to their attitudes, lifestyles, and values with respect to electricity consumption. This paper details the often dire concrete and everyday consequences of such a flickering pattern between electricity's presence and absence for middle class citizens in Accra. It necessitated a renegotiation of social relations and a reorganisation of social arrangements and practices at the micro domestic level. People had to reorient their lifestyles, which have been deeply penetrated and structured by electricity to converge with the new realities. For these, electricity is still valued because it has shaped and textured their everyday practices, relationships, values, expectations and meanings. Their choice of material possessions which they describe as symbolic makers of modern living, no longer represent luxury or status but necessity and convenience. Faced with such an uncertain technology or the "randomness of infrastructure", research participants' "cultivated divination skills" as a necessary strategy to help plan and navigate around the new realities in their everyday lives.
The Pressure of Waste: Sanitation Protests, Material Density and Technopolitics of Inclusion in Urban South Africa
This paper examines the everyday materiality of politics. Building on earlier work, we move between a recent wave of protests about sanitation access in South Africa; problems faced by city engineers in upgrading services for an expanding city to meet expectations about norms of urban life.
This paper seeks to take problems of urban governance seriously, reconsidering the everyday materiality of politics in relation to the density of urban populations and their material byproducts. In it we engage with three conceptual points of reference: Partha Chatterjee's (2004) framing of "political society"; Nikhil Anand's (2012) discussion of the politechnics of "pressure" in Mumbai's water supply; and Steven J. Jackson's (2014) call to engage in "broken world thinking." Building on earlier work, we move between a recent wave of protests about sanitation access in South Africa; problems faced by city engineers in upgrading services for an expanding city to meet expectations about norms of urban life, and, finally, the mundane, everyday repair and maintenance work done by a caretaker/janitor at a Dutch-funded public sanitation facility in an informal settlement in Cape Town. Our goal is to draw on these sites of activism and intervention to expose the material logics of waste, population density and technology that are often elided in political discourse on everyday life in informal settlements in South Africa.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.