Urban Africa

Term: Spring 2012

Subject Code: NINT

Course Number: 5215

In a context of globalization in which cities have gained increasing importance as nodes in variety of global flows, African cities are often presented as dysfunctional and defined primarily in the register of lack: a lack of global and transnational connection, a lack of order and efficiency, and, more generally a lack of modernity. This seminar will provide a variety of perspectives on the study of African cities which challenge and complicate these assumptions and seeks to provide students with a historically theoretically and empirically grounded understanding of the dynamics of urban life and sociality in Africa. At a time of increasing urbanization on the African continent, what might the study of urban African contexts tell us about forms of belonging and culture; connections and disconnections between people and institutions; about distinctions between the formal and the informal and tradition and modernity; and about the shifting terrain of governance and political mobilization?The first part of the course seeks to ground the study of African cities historically, focusing in particular on how the colonial legacy has shaped African cities. We will be interested in how the dichotomy between the urban and the rural has been produced, both conceptually and in practice, and its fault lines and on how the colonial and postcolonial period has shaped urban contexts spatially. The second part of the course takes urban infrastructures and urban planning as a lense through which to understand social, political and cultural relations within the city and beyond. We will approach infrastructures as networked systems that both shape and are shaped by urban forms of social life, and, as such, can open up a set of larger questions about sociality, culture and politics in African cities. We will read accounts from several African cities focusing in particular on how urban infrastructures including material, media and cultural infrastructures are both involved in the increasing integration of African cities and simultaneously produce new disjunctures and forms of marginalization. This will also entail a discussion of African cities as nodes in transnational and translocal processes. Lastly, we will study how the city and its infrastructures become both the object and terrain of contestation around basic needs, in the process reconfiguring the status of legitimate claims of citizenship and belonging.

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