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Social Dynamics

A journal of African studies

ISSN: 0253-3952 (Print) 1940-7874 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rsdy20

Grasping the unknowable: coming to grips with


African urbanisms

Edgar Pieterse

To cite this article: Edgar Pieterse (2011) Grasping the unknowable: coming to grips with African
urbanisms, Social Dynamics, 37:1, 5-23, DOI: 10.1080/02533952.2011.569994

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/02533952.2011.569994

Published online: 26 May 2011.

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Social Dynamics
Vol. 37, No. 1, March 2011, 5–23

Grasping the unknowable: coming to grips with African urbanisms


Edgar Pieterse*

African Centre for Cities and School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics, University of
Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Social
10.1080/02533952.2011.569994
RSDY_A_569994.sgm
0253-3952
Original
Taylor
102011
37
edgar.pieterse@uct.ac.za
EdgarPieterse
00000March
Dynamics
&
and
Article
Francis
(print)/1940-7874
Francis
2011 (online)

The purpose of this essay is to make a case for why a much more differentiated
and complex theoretical approach to contemporary African urbanism is required.
It builds on an important body of work that has emerged over the course of the past
two decades that seeks to explicate and theorise the specificity of everyday
practices of ordinary Africans as they endeavour to stitch together livelihoods,
aspirations, socialities, aesthetics and space amidst conditions of widespread
poverty and deprivation. However, this body of work on ordinary urbanism seeks
to make a break with the reductionist tendencies in African urban studies to derive
observation and explanation from a materialist reading of difficult living
conditions, to foreground instead other ways of understanding the density and
spatiality of urban becomings. The essay starts with some orienting information
about the dynamics and trajectories of urbanisation in Africa in order to
underscore how much we still do not know, and to caution against simplistic
extrapolations that we need to ‘manage’ a so-called disastrous tendency. In the
section that follows the contextualisation, I switch registers and draw out some of
the scholarly perspectives and debates on how we can create an account of African
urbanisms with an eye on some of the limitations of this relatively new literature.
Thereafter I use this convenient binary to enter into some reflections on what the
methodological and philosophical implications might be of trying to come to terms
with the elusive essence of African cities. This account is used to then spell out a
research agenda that in part informs the overall project of the African Centre for
Cities on African urbanisms.
Keywords: African urbanism; differential urbanisation; postcolonialism; affect;
deal-making

It is said that at the edge we encounter danger, but this is just another way of saying that
there we are forced to communicate critically with a great many dimensions at once.
(Sanford Kwinter 1996, p. 73)

Africa has the fastest rate of urbanisation compared to all other regions. According to
UN-HABITAT projections (UNFPA 2007, p. 7) Africa will more than double its
urban population over the next two decades, from 294 million in 2000 to a staggering
742 million in 2030, and 1.2 billion by 2050! The rapidity and scale of this demo-
graphic and social transition is almost unimaginable, especially if one considers that
the vast majority of existing urbanites make do in utterly miserable living conditions
caused in part by state neglect, skewed economic development patterns, limited
resources and administrative incompetence; dynamics that are, of course, in one way
or another tangible legacies of the savage colonial experiments we were subjected to

*Email: edgar.pieterse@uct.ac.za

ISSN 0253-3952 print/ISSN 1940-7874 online


© 2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/02533952.2011.569994
http://www.informaworld.com
6 E. Pieterse

for most of the Enlightenment era. However, in this paper I am less interested in
spending time painting the visible demographic drama that will remake the continent
in an irrevocable way; rather, I want to explore what it means when we are bereft of
a philosophical-social theoretical vocabulary to make sense of these transitions in the
specificities of our African soil, spirit and phenomenologies.
For the better part of two decades now the absence of a more complex and expan-
sive body of thought on the specificities of African urbanism has been recognised.
However, the scholars who have worked to populate this lacuna have tended to create
new obscurities. They have tended to delve into the psycho-social and linguistic-
discursive, with insufficient regard for the natural systems and material structures that
enable and press down on diverse social formations and identities. The understandable
reason for this has been the tendency to focus on individual or micro practices in order
to bring to the surface nuance, texture, variability, diversity and of course, contingency.
I have deep sympathy and respect for these advances by scholars such as Akin
Adesokan, Filip de Boeck, Mamadou Diouf, James Yuma, Achille Mbembe, Domin-
ique Malaquais, Sarah Nuttall and others, but equally recognise that we are not likely
to arrive at a denser, expansive and fuller conceptualisation of the specificity of African
urbanisms by merely collating idiosyncratic micro examples and case studies. We need
to find ways in which we can clarify the knowledge agenda that will be able to articulate
macro trend data and perspectives using insights about the novelty of contemporary
urban life as it comes into being at this late capitalist moment, when Africa remains
an afterthought, an invisible placemat for larger power struggles, and the globalised
allegory for failed modernisation.
I begin here by presenting some orienting information about the dynamics and
trajectories of urbanisation in Africa, in order to underscore how much we still do not
know and to caution against simplistic extrapolations that we need to ‘manage’ a so-
called disastrous tendency. In the section that follow the contextualisation, I switch
registers and draw out some of the scholarly perspectives and debates on how we can
create an account of African urbanisms with an eye on some of the limitations of this
relatively new literature. Thereafter I use this convenient binary to enter into some
reflections on what the methodological and philosophical implications might be of
trying to come to terms with the elusive essence of African cities. This account is then
used to spell out a research agenda that this special issue of Social Dynamics speaks
to, but which remains profoundly incomplete.

Differential African urbanisation


To be sure, African cities and towns are marked by profound crisis. The visible face
of this crisis is the endless vistas of shantytowns and the burden of self-help and aban-
donment that they imply. In fact, informal, ‘autoconstructed’, makeshift shelter
responses house 62% of African urbanites.1 In other words, the shanty city is by and
large the real African city. This further implies that the bulk of city building can be
attributed to actors outside of the state and formal business sector. This is an arresting
realisation, because the deep-seated assumption of modernisation theory is that
‘development’ arrives incrementally as the state provides housing and services for the
ever-expanding working classes that swell the factories of the private sector. In fact
much of mainstream development economics points to the virtuous connection
between urbanisation and economic growth. Yet in the postcolonial era, much of
Africa has seemingly elided this ‘inevitable’ outcome. I do not have space here to
Social Dynamics 7

explore the reasons for this, but rather want to provide a quick overview of some
macro urbanisation trends and dynamics that underlie the informal city as the real city.
This is done in order to provide a material orientation to the social-cultural dynamics
I will explore later on, but also to reinforce my underlying insistence that we need to
articulate different academic genres that address the contemporary African urban
condition (Pieterse 2009).
The first general orienting point to make is that Africa is still at the beginning of
its urban transition. Africa is only 38% urbanised at present, and this masks great
variances between the four regions of the continent. For example, North Africa is
already 51% urbanised compared to only 21% in East Africa; Central and Western
Africa is 42% urbanised and Southern Africa, 46% (UN-HABITAT 2008).
However, Africa as a whole manifests the fastest annual rate of urbanisation at
3.31%.2 Factoring in a slowing of rates of urbanisation, UN-HABITAT (2010) fore-
sees the urban population reaching 750 million by 2030 and 1.2 billion by 2050. In
other words, Africa will achieve much of its urban transition over an 80-year period,
compared to the 200 years between 1750 and 1950 that it took for the West to tran-
sition from being 10% to 52% urban (Satterthwaite 2007; UNFPA 2007, pp. 7–8).3
And as we know, the West had the lucrative colonial economies to draw on to
finance much of its urbanisation response. This ‘financing model’ is obviously not
available to African societies.
Having established the rate and population size of Africa’s unfolding urbanisation
transition, the second point to stress is that the vast majority of African urbanites
reside, and will continue to reside, in urban settlements with populations of fewer that
0.5 million people. For example, Table 1 indicates that in 2007, 52% of the urban
population lived in settlements with fewer than 0.5 million people, compared to 10%
in cities sized between 0.5 and 1 million people; 28% in cities between 1 and 5 million
people; 3.8% in cities of between 5 and 10 million; and only 6% in cities with more
than 10 million people (UN-HABITAT 2008). This is fundamentally different to the
popular impression of mega-city explosions. It is interesting to note that projections
suggest these proportional shares will remain more or less intact up to 2025.
However, one caveat is important to consider. At the same time as we are witness-
ing the important role played by small and medium-sized cities in this urbanisation
process, we can also identify the emergence of a number of significant city-region
zones and corridors, for example the Greater Cairo Region; the corridor along Ibadan-
Lagos-Cotonou-Lomé-Accra; and of course the Gauteng city-region that connects
with Maputo, Harare and the Durban-Richards Bay region (UN-HABITAT 2008).
The implications of this mega and flowing urban form are only beginning to surface
in academic and policy communities.

Table 1. Size of African cities in 2007 and projection for 2025.


Size >10m 5–10m 1–5m 0.5–1m <0.5m
Number of cities 2007 2 2 48 69 Unknown
Population (1000s) 23,076 14,238 102,418 41,057 231,404
% of urban population 6.18 3.81 27.53 10.10 52.48
Trends for 2025 (number of cities) 3 8 73 84 Unknown
Source: UN-HABITAT 2008, p. 6.
8 E. Pieterse

The third trend that is important to emphasise is that almost all of the growth that
will unfold in African cities will take the form of slum growth. According to the 2008
State of the World’s Cities report, ‘between 1990 and 2000, slum areas grew at a rate
of 4.53%, whilst overall urban growth rates were 4.58% in the same period’ (UN-
HABITAT 2008, p. 19). This underscores the earlier observation that the real African
city does not correspond to modernist biases about the physical fabric of cities. The
salience of this point will become much clearer later on in this paper, when I argue for
the need to theorise African urbanism from the perspective of ordinary people who
live in these slum conditions.
The prevalence of slums in African cities and towns highlights the lack or insuffi-
ciency of basic services such as water, sanitation and access to energy at the household
level (Foster and Briceño-Garmendia 2010). Two factors have driven the dramatic
growth of backlogs in basic services. The first is the fact that most African govern-
ments continue to regard migration to cities and towns as a bad thing, and see proac-
tive policy to address the needs of the urban poor and slum dwellers as an incentive
for even larger volumes of migration – a signal they are reluctant to send to the rural
masses.4 The second is the reality that there has been very little public (or private)
finance available for urban infrastructure. In fact, investment in urban infrastructure
has been on a reasonably sharp decline since the 1980s, from 4% of GDP to less that
2% by the early 2000s (see Figure 1).
and social expenditures as % of GDP, 1980–2001 6

It is noteworthy that the authoritative African Urban Infrastructure Diagnostic


Figure 1.Estache
Source: Infrastructure
2005, p. 17

report suggests that what is actually required to address the basic service backlogs
and keep pace with growth in demand is a 15% of GDP expenditure level for at
least 10 years (Foster and Briceño-Garmendia 2010). This translates into US $93
billion per annum. This dramatic expenditure need is premised on the following
diagnostic:

Figure 1. Infrastructure and social expenditures as % of GDP, 1980–2001. 5


Source: Estache 2005, p. 17.
Social Dynamics 9

Access to infrastructure services is more limited in Africa than in any other region of the
developing world. Official estimates suggest that electricity is available to little more
than 20 percent of Africa’s population, versus 33 percent in South Asia, the next-lowest
region. Access to an improved water source is 56 percent (versus 78 percent in East
Asia), while access to a piped water connection is just 12 percent. Access to improved
sanitation, at 37 percent, is comparable to that in South Asia, but well behind the 50
percent reported for East Asia. Moreover, access to a flush toilet (connecting to a sewer
or septic tank) is only 6 percent. Telecommunications is the exception to the general
pattern of stasis or decline. In telephone density (landlines and cellular telephones),
Africa is somewhat ahead of South Asia, with 64 versus 56 subscribers per thousand
people. Landline coverage increased dramatically to reach more than 7 percent of house-
holds in the early 2000s, while cellular telephones came from nowhere to reach 10
percent of households today. (Bannerjee et al. 2008, p. 2)

These are aggregate numbers that include rural and urban deficiencies. However, the
same report indicated levels of access in urban areas as follows: 40% have access to
piped water; 30% have access to a flush toilet; 70% have access to electricity; and
20% have access to a landline (Bannerjee et al. 2008, p. 2). However, if one considers
the bottom three quintiles of the urban population, their levels of access are similar to
the extremely low levels in rural areas. Put differently, almost all of the access to
various categories of urban infrastructure is accounted for by the top two quintiles,
underscoring the profound asset inequality that scars African urban areas. But this is
not the only way in which slum dwellers and slum areas are disadvantaged. As I have
argued more extensively elsewhere, in the hierarchy of desired urban infrastructures,
the preferences of urban elites, large businesses and especially foreign companies
skew the investment priorities of cities as they juggle economic, household and public
infrastructures (Pieterse 2008).6
Whatever way one looks at the phenomenon of urbanisation in Africa, it is impos-
sible not to be alarmed by the cumulative dynamic of exclusion, impoverishment and
deepening inequality that is in stark evidence. If one is to layer over this the antici-
pated impacts of climate change, it is equally clear that the fate of the majority of
urban dwellers in Africa will go from bad to disastrous (Simon 2008). The urban poor
are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts, and the least able to adapt (Douglas
et al. 2009).
Against this backdrop one can be forgiven for assuming that the only academic
endeavour that could possibly matter is to generate knowledge that can produce effec-
tive policy responses. However, ironically, the bulk of urban scholarship in Africa and
on African cities during the postcolonial era has in fact been preoccupied with
explaining the structural economic reasons for this state of affairs, and/or focused on
specific sectoral or governance policy solutions; if not dealing with any of these
concerns, then undertaking an excursion into the institutional reasons for policy fail-
ure in order to try and understand how African governments can get better at imple-
menting what is ‘known’ about how to fix the ills of African cities. A number of
studies provide an incisive and critical account of these tendencies, which it is not
necessary to repeat here (see Mbembe and Nuttall 2004, Simone 2004, Murray and
Myers 2006, Robinson 2006).
An important dimension of the continued absence of a dense and well-rounded
account of lived urbanisms in Africa can be traced back to the genuflection to efforts
to ‘fix’ the negative social and environmental externalities of urbanisation. The
policy-fix genre of scholarship on African cities is premised on a moral outrage
about the suffering of the poor, and in that normative positioning becomes blind to
10 E. Pieterse

the very people it aims to help because it erases their innately complex and diverse
‘lifeworlds’, in the parlance of Norman Long (2001).7 Moreover, developmentalist
obsessions tend to focus on the poor, and allow the rich and wealthy classes to go
about their routine reproduction of urban space free of the analytical attention of
scholars; or else, when they do come into the frame, they are caricatured as rational
market actors or exploitative class agents. As I will explain at considerable length
below, these instrumentalist traditions or genres of urban scholarship have obscured
more than they reveal.

The lived vitalities of African cities


The most compelling insights into the lived dynamics of everyday life in African cities
come to us through literary works, finely crafted anthropological studies, films, and
sometimes, investigative reportage. It is instructive to draw out a few examples to
illustrate how different these knowledge registers are compared to the aggregate statis-
tical representations presented earlier in this paper. A good place to start is the love
story by Nigerian writer Ben Okri, Dangerous Love (2002). I cite this example
because it was one of the first novels I encountered that persuaded me that there were
much more compelling ways of bringing cityness and mundane beauty to life than the
wooden development tropes that remain the stock in trade of developmentalist
academic discourses and NGOs.
Okri’s story is set in the immediate aftermath of the brutal Biafran civil war, and
is refracted through the phenomenological experiences of his lead protagonist, Omovo,
a fledgling painter who happens to live in one of the worst Lagosian slums and is hope-
lessly in love with a married woman living in the same sprawling compound as himself.
In the following scene, Omovo makes a stab at grasping his city…

When he got home he sat on the bed and pondered their conversation. Soon he felt his
head spinning in a cross-wind of too many things he had to think through. He opened the
windows. The air that blew in was fresh at first and then it brought all the smells of the
compound. Light streamed in. He decided to paint in order to escape the traffic jam of
his thoughts.

He brought out his easel and oils. He mixed the colours, his mind became progressively
engrossed in the act, the ritual of preparation for work. He breathed more gently. His
mind cleared. Then he got out the canvas he had abandoned earlier. He looked at the
confused, ugly colours and half-formed images he had daubed there. He looked at the
canvas a long time. Then, curiously, he began to discern the potentialities in the half
formed shapes. He read himself into them. With his natural aversion for shapes that were
not anything related to blood and feeling, with his respect for the narrative aspect of
painting, his mood guided him to attempt something he would not ordinarily do because
he felt it too difficult and demanding. He started to paint a Lagos traffic jam. The
moment he realised what he was doing he was happy, he felt light, and he ceased to think
altogether. The vision and his mood carried him on their unique stream and he soon
wasn’t even aware that he was painting. And in the moments when his concentration
broke and he became aware that he was indeed painting he began to do something
strange, something he had never done before. He began to name the images he was
bringing into being, began to chant them, as if he were praying, as if the naming of them
in some way guided his hand:

‘Metal. Hot road. Copper sun. Sweating drivers. Busy hawkers. Policemen accepting
bribes. Lights on painted metal. Yellow and black taxis. Glittering windscreens.
Weather-beaten faces. Struggling faces. A million colours of sun and city. The faces of
Social Dynamics 11

my people. Hallucinatory sunlight on the green lagoon. Gasoline fumes. Beggars.


Soldiers everywhere. Traffic jams everywhere. Noise. Chaos. Everything jammed.
Motion. Confusion. Houses jammed. No birds in the air’.

And so he spoke and worked as if he was transcribing images from a cloud.

After a while he felt drained and aching. He took it as a sign to stop. […]

When he went back to his room he sat down and, after his eyes had readjusted to the
level of the light in the room, looked at his painting. It wasn’t as good as what he had
seen in his mind. He was a little annoyed by the poor reproduction of imagined reality.
He always disliked the feeling of knowing that what was good in his painting nearly
always came from his inability to do what he intended, to catch what he saw. (Okri
2002, pp. 188–190)

In a more dystopian vein I can also invoke the reportage of George Packer (2006),
who is able in a few pages to capture the grinding intensity of routinised violence in
contemporary Lagos without losing sight of the silent capacity of ordinary Lagosians
to make do against these impossible odds. At the other side of the continent, an
Ethiopian journalist, Yohannes Edemariam (2007), provides an equally affecting and
resonant account of the odd mixture of inventiveness, tenacity, cunning, cruelty and
truncated dynamics of daily life in contemporary Addis Ababa. One of the themes that
emerge very strongly in this piece is the degree to which sex work by girls and women
becomes one of the primary livelihood practices there, and how seemingly unavoid-
able and psychically corrosive this is. One of the characters we meet in Edemariam’s
essay is a young woman called Mekdes. She has fled to Addis after her relationship
with her boyfriend turned violent, and in the process has left her newborn with her
grandmother. In Addis, she knows no one and ends up being inducted into the ways
of the city by two newly acquired friends who have also ended up in Addis after flee-
ing from violent domestic relationships. Both of her new friends are sex workers, and
they induct Mekdes into the trade. At some point in the conversation, as she laments
her fate and especially her lack of options, she reflects:

Nobody can really deal with this kind of life… Without knowing it, you start off at a
certain okay place and slide downward, and when you find yourself in this place, where
you are amazes you; it scares you. But you’ve reached the place, touched your feet to it,
and so, because you have no choice, you just live. (Edemariam 2007, p. 72)

For most poor youth in many cities of Africa, the city is a highly circumscribed funnel
that delivers them to contexts within which they have very little option other than a
life of violence, excess and terror because of the profound deprivation that character-
ises their households and neighbourhoods, which coincides with the crumbling of
former familial and traditional socialisation frameworks.8 However, to simply see
them as victims of the horror story that is failed modernisation in Africa is to entirely
miss the point. This insight comes through most compellingly in the unflinching
scholarship of Mamadou Diouf (2003). He demonstrates how something else, some-
thing as yet unknown and certainly untheorised, is unfolding in the crisis-ridden
spaces of contemporary African cities:

Excluded from the arenas of power, work, education, and leisure, young Africans
construct places of socialization and new sociabilities whose function is to show their
difference, either on the margins of society or at its heart, simultaneously as victims and
12 E. Pieterse

active agents, and circulating in a geography that escapes the limits of the national
territory… (Diouf 2003, p. 5)

Diouf argues that through a focus on the embodied work of identity marking and
circulation that these youths engage in, we can foster an alternative reading of the
African city:

In most African societies, distress as well as success adhere to the body and are read on
the body, especially among young people. Clothed, adorned with jewels, powdered,
perfumed, and shaped, their bodies also bear the scars left by the struggle for survival or
the longing for ‘a good life’ through licit or illicit activities such as prostitution,
vagrancy, or delinquency. By living life on the margin, young people abolish the gap
between adolescence and adulthood, and in some cases, between childhood and adoles-
cence. Sex and violence become rites of passage and initiation which, like the new reli-
gious practices, produce a historicity of dissidence and dissent. By escaping the political
and moral discourses that hemmed them in, and by moving into the cracks opened up by
the crisis of the state and society, African youth has provoked an unprecedented moral
and civic panic. Young people are now seen and constructed as a menace, as much
because of their pleasures and leisure activities as because of the violence they can mani-
fest. These two aspects have become indissociable from them, with their most evident
expression in the AIDS epidemic that is ravaging the continent. To kill, to experience
violence and pleasure, to move along the obscure paths of night and migration, of witch-
craft, of the urban and rural undergrounds – all these impulses produce new cultures, new
sociabilities, and new meanings of pleasure, life, and death. (Diouf 2003, pp. 9–10)

What I draw from this framing is a fertile research agenda that can immediately open
up a vast terrain for more grounded, spatially attuned and phronetic research,9 of a
kind that can potentially yield the microscopic details of everyday practices as imag-
ined and experienced by the contemporary protagonists of the city who, through their
abandonment by the nationalist development project, have been forced to carve out a
distinctive, even if often monstrous, ‘morality’ of risk, chance, narcissistic pleasure
and, also, tenderness and intimacy.10 It is precisely due to the moral ambiguity embed-
ded in such emergent socialities that we need a post- or critical humanist philosophical
frame to underpin such a research agenda.
The point I want to make in citing these affect-abounding representations of
contemporary urban life is that it is necessary to accentuate the dangers associated
with a narrow body of urban scholarship that remains fixated on macro demographic,
economic and political trends within a developmentalist mindset. Those registers are
important, have their place, but have enjoyed an exclusive reign over the African
urban knowledge project for too long, and have in fact caused considerable damage
because they evacuate more interpretive, phenomenological and relational accounts of
social and cultural dynamics and psychological dispositions – what Arjun Appadurai
(1996) calls the ingredients for the ‘production of locality’.
However, the key point is not merely that we need fuller, richer and more textured
accounts of ordinariness in African cities than we find in the vast literature on Western
urbanism; the point is that we need these differentiated accounts to help us understand
what geographers call the spatiality of the city. Current debates on spatiality are
deeply indebted to the path-breaking work of Henri Lefebvre (Lefebvre 1996), who
developed a sophisticated theoretical account of how urban spaces are relentlessly
constructed at the intersection of ‘representations of space’ by architects, planners and
developers– ‘spaces of representation’ which denote the vast symbolic associations
we link with particular kinds of spaces; for example when Capetonians hear the words
Social Dynamics 13

‘Waterfront’ or ‘Khayelitsha’, all manner of symbolic registers spring to mind which


may or may not have anything to do with the material and cultural realities of those
sites. Lefebvre also invokes the idea of ‘spatial practice’, which denotes the material,
concrete, tangible dimensions of social activity and interactions. Space, according to
this framework, gets reproduced as these different moments continuously interact and
collide, and then gets filtered very subjectively into how we all uniquely perceive,
conceive and live space at every moment of every day (Schmidt 2008, pp. 36–37).
What this schema suggests is that urban space is never an empty container in which
individual or collective identities can be read off people’s class status, or their residen-
tial address, or their mobility patterns. As scholars we have a fundamental responsi-
bility to investigate and theorise the specific ways in which various levels/orders/
dynamics of spatial organisation and territory are literally fleshed out, animated and
rendered new through the unpredictable combination of spatial practices and imagi-
naries that invariably collide in cities (Pile 2010).
Put differently, if we build on Lefebvre’s basic approach we can appreciate how
cities embody immense heterogeneity in terms of ‘their density as concentrations of
people, things, institutions and architectural forms; the heterogeneity of life they
juxtapose in close proximity; and their siting of various networks of communication
and flow across and beyond the city’ (Amin and Thrift 2002, p. 2). This idea that there
is an inevitable spatial dynamism to urban life has spawned a massive body of schol-
arship on the generative capacity that arises from the energies embedded in such
constitutive pluralism. However, almost all of that scholarship pertains to Northern
cities and contexts, even though the unique, hybrid, informalised modernities of cities
in the South arguably offer up even more dramatic juxtapositions and generative
potentialities, as has been recognised for a while now (see Simone 1990, Balbo 1993,
Malik 2001). Unfortunately, these remain largely unwritten scholarly accounts,
despite the efforts of the handful of scholars who have been trying to address the
lacuna. The question we must confront is whether our narrow obsession with devel-
opmentalist solutions will ever produce the institutional conditions to see this overdue
scholarship come to pass. On this note it is appropriate to turn to some philosophical
and methodological implications of the argument thus far.

Philosophical intimations
The foregrounding of new spatial theories to excavate and explain the dense and rich
indeterminacies of African cities is not only essential to elaborate more compelling
theoretical accounts of African urbanism, which is a worthy academic goal in and of
itself, but is also essential for relevant applied research in a developmentalist vein. In
fact what we need is a knowledge milieu that allows for rigorous engagement with
these genres of urban scholarship, one that will allow us to formulate much better
questions and maybe even answers from time to time. However, if we are to succeed
in forging this kind of interpellation, I am certain that our conceptual frameworks
about the functioning of structural political economy dynamics in African cities are
inadequate.
Over the past decade or two urban political economy analyses have been dominated
by either neoclassical or neo-Marxist approaches. Neoclassical approaches are more
economic in orientation and tend to focus on the relationship between urban infrastruc-
tures, productivity and effective mediating institutions to ensure that market-based
solutions can succeed. Neo-Marxists are more focused on political systems, and seek
14 E. Pieterse

to demonstrate that urban policies almost always only serve the interests of elites who
are hell-bent on securing foreign direct investment and tailor urban investments accord-
ingly, at the expense of the urban poor of course. What is ironic is that radical urban
theorists draw on regime theory, or regulation theory and/or governmentality theories,
in concert with Marxian political economy to explain how these class-based power
dynamics unfold. Ironic because all of these theories arise from Northern contexts, and
assume a well developed welfare state as an inheritance of Keynesian policies over a
number of decades.11 Of course, hardly any of the Keynesian legacies apply in African
cities, because the grounding conditions of political institutions, political cultures,
economic regulatory systems, economic structure, educational levels of the labour
force, etc. are simply not present in comparable historical terms to those that exist in
Northern worlds. Yet, despite what one may regard as an obvious structural difference
with profound conceptual implications, we still see little evidence of attempts to anal-
yse urban economic systems and associated political and cultural institutions in the
context of Africa’s particular asymmetrical insertion into a variety of overlapping and
contiguous ‘spaces of flows’, in the lexicon of Manuel Castells (1997).
Another equally obvious anomaly is the complexity of economic processes and
interactions and livelihood dynamics unfolding in African cities amidst the wide-
spread prevalence of illicit and grey economic activity. UN-HABITAT data suggest
that more than 60% of urban residents in Africa obtain employment and incomes from
the informal sector.12 In other words, informality is the norm. This trend is likely to
continue, but with an increasingly youthful face as more than 50% of Africa’s popu-
lation is less than 24 years of age (Cheru 2008). What we do not know is what it means
for the functioning of urban economic systems when distinctions between formal and
informal economic activity are seemingly redundant, and the imaginary of long-term
wage work becomes permanently displaced.
It should be fairly obvious by now that I regard our vast gaps in knowledge about
African cities as an outgrowth of our over-reliance on Western-derived theoretical
frameworks. However, I am certain that there is also a deeper, more insidious dynamic
at work. Most scholars are overburdened by a priori moral assumptions about what is
good, normal, modern, and what is not, and therefore not worthy of study, or if stud-
ied, not to be valorised. We urgently need to move towards a more dispassionate
approach to the real city, the real economy and the real social practices and identities
of the majority of urbanites who are building our cities if we want to make sense of
them, and we need to do this in terms of a much more layered theoretical framework
that can foreground the specificity of spatial practices in our diverse cities and towns.
However, it is not enough to simply invoke the need for dispassionate scholarship
and to follow the evidence wherever it may lead us. There are more fundamental
philosophical issues at stake that must be addressed, if we are serious in our efforts to
find and account for the elusive ‘real city’. I have been circling around this problem-
atic over the past few years, through an exploration of urban violence and popular
responses. If we consider for a moment that in the Democratic Republic of Congo
alone, there were 5.4 million conflict-related deaths between 1998 and 2008 – let
alone the other 30 African countries where conflicts were recorded in the past few
years – then it is clear that violence dominates social life in African societies (ADB
2008). Read in conjunction with available data on urban poverty and multiple dimen-
sions of deprivation and insecurity, the conclusion is inescapable that ‘the everyday’,
i.e. mundane normalcy, is profoundly scarred by structural and symbolic violence,
which in turn reproduces an acute level of social violence that overdetermines familial
Social Dynamics 15

and domestic relations. How can one remain dispassionate amidst this relentless
cruelty, one is forced to ask?
Here I think it is sensible to follow John Gray’s (Gray 2008, p. 227), argument that
we need to abandon both liberal humanist and Marxist beliefs in a teleological
approach to history and by extension the human condition, which in this reading is
always somehow on its way to somewhere better. Instead, we need to opt for a more
realist approach that accepts the inescapability of the conclusion that ‘there is no right
way of settling conflicts among universal values’. This is premised on a rejection of
‘any belief in ultimate convergence in history’, which eschews the ‘lure of harmony
in ethics’. For moral conflicts can often be ‘of a kind that cannot be fully resolved’
and the contemporary world is a stark reminder of the perpetual choices we all make
for a lesser evil (Gray 2008, p. 279).
This, I believe, is consistent with the postcolonial pragmatist philosophical stance
advocated by Philip Harrison (2006). Postcolonialism, with its interest in how the
colonial encounter violently repressed and sought to erase indigenous practices and
associated knowledges, is a productive seam of analysis with which to reveal the
inherent teleological biases of Western rationality, and more importantly, the potential
that resides in repressed and occluded knowledges that were never successfully done
away with through the colonial encounter and the skewed modernist enterprise built
on top of it.13 Harrison proposes that through careful excavation, subjugated knowl-
edges and subjectivities can be retrieved and revealed. There is ample opportunity for
such excavations, because the failure of the Western modernist adventure in much of
the global South leaves open the cracks through which other practices, rationalities
and worldviews can be glimpsed. This line of argument leads Harrison to suggest that
we need to conceive of multiple modernities, and by extension, multiple rationalities,
which must imply plural moralities, that underpin contemporary life (see also Watson
2003). This move opens up a hopeful reading whereby Africa ceases to be a basket
case of multiple pathologies by Western modernist standards, and becomes rather an
example of inventiveness – but not necessarily one en route to a preordained future.

Rather than seeing Africa as an incomplete or deteriorated example of modernity, we


might focus on how Africa, and its many different parts, is – through the resourceful
responses of its residents to conditions of vulnerability – in the process of becoming
something new that is both part of and separate from Western modernity. This new imag-
inary may provide a conceptual opening that would allow us to think about Africa in
ways that are more hopeful and positive; that acknowledge the success of Africans in
constructing productive lives at a micro-scale, and economies and societies at a macro-
scale, that work despite major structural constraints. (Harrison 2006, p. 323)

Even though I think Harrison tries to leap too quickly towards a discourse of hope, his
philosophical project does chime with the unsettling injunction of cultural theorist
Ashraf Jamal (2010), who insists that we need to abandon our deeply embedded belief
that all moral and ethical questions must be resolved on an axis of hope and despair.
Instead, Jamal urges us to eschew such a simplistic moral schema, and rather opt for
an ethics that forces us to confront the horror of human and natural torment with the
full realisation that we do not have ways to resolve these dilemmas, but can cultivate
a sensibility that allows us to inhabit the horror, as a first and necessary step towards
truly grasping its decisive impact; and then find new languages and registers with
which to name and possibly displace it. I do not have the space here to fully develop
this philosophical project, but feel compelled to register it because it opens the
16 E. Pieterse

passageway to a different kind of urban scholarship (see Pieterse 2009, 2010). At the
core of this ethical disposition, I believe, is a radical reconsideration of social being
and becoming.

Recasting social life


One of the most promising conceptual developments to have occurred over the last
while has been the recasting of social identities at the confluence of socio-cultural and
biological sciences through the foregrounding of affective consciousness. In its
simplest terms, affect denotes the experience of feelings or emotions and forms a key
part of an organism’s interaction with external stimuli.14 Affective consciousness is
distinguishable from cognitive consciousness, and biologically our response to external
stimuli taps into affective predispositions before any cognitive reaction can be trig-
gered. There is a difference in how affect is regarded in psychoanalytic theory and in
philosophy. William Connolly (2002, 2006) draws on the philosophical stream, which
is indebted to Spinoza, to build a case that political theory needs to be recast to take
cognisance of the insights that emerge when people are not perceived as simply calcu-
lating beings who operate primarily on the basis of cognitive modes of consciousness.
Instead, Connolly (2006, p. 67) suggests that we need to draw together biological
accounts of life with cultural theories of being for ‘biology and culture are always mixed
together in human life’. This recognition of the ‘body/brain/culture network’ allows
for the constitutive role of affect in thought and judgement to come to the fore.
Affect, Connolly demonstrates, is particularly important for action-oriented deci-
sion-making processes because humans tend to act on the basis of external stimuli at
a faster pace than the brain can process, which means that something else, an affective
disposition, informs their responses through the preliminary orientations that they
have. In drawing on the evidence of neuroscience, Connolly demonstrates that indi-
viduals with diminished capacity in the brain regions associated with affect ‘are
unable to reason their way to practical conclusions’ (Krause 2006, p. 1). Affect holds
the key to deciphering deeply embedded dispositions, desires and concerns that steer
us towards a particular kind of response that is most resonant, most appealing, most
promising, and these tendencies are activated in the gap between an event unfolding
in the now and our brain figuring out what it means in order to trigger a considered
response; often that response is a complex emotional state which is more processed
than initial affective states. This is a universal quality in all human beings, which
Connolly (2002) believes explains much about the seductive power that characterises
contemporary cultures of consumption and the symbolic distractions that underpin
contemporary democratic systems.
The key point about foregrounding an affective conception of the social is that
affect is tied to the embodiment of all experience. Thus, for Brian Massumi (2002), the
key to understanding the significance of affect is to come to terms with the minuscule
transitions the body goes through as it moves in various gravitational fields. For the
body to move to its next point, it requires a great deal of implicit negotiation of grav-
ity, equilibrium and balance, and that capacity exists before cognitive consciousness,
as an affective awareness brought into being through experience and endless feedback
loops and reconfirmations. However, crucially, affect also represents a profound
connection with micro-contexts, people and processes that surround bodily transi-
tions. Affective responses draw deeply on layers and layers of experiences that contin-
uously fold into themselves, creating a richer reservoir of potential affective
Social Dynamics 17

resonances which produces an inherent and constitutive potentiality for becoming


something or someone else, even if the transition is microscopic. Massumi captures
this potentiality aptly:

A body’s ability to affect or be affected – its charge of affect – isn’t something fixed. So
depending on circumstances it goes up and down gently like a tide, or maybe storms and
crests like a wave, or at times simply bottoms out. It’s because this is all attached to
movements of the body that it can’t be reduced to emotion. It’s not just subjective, which
is not to say there is nothing subjective about it. Spinoza says that every transition is
accompanied by a feeling of the change in capacity. The affect and the feeling of the
transition are not two different things. They’re two sides of the same coin, just like
affecting and being affected. That’s the first sense in which affect is about intensity –
every affect is a doubling. This experience of a change, an affect-being affected, is
redoubled by an experience of the experience. This gives the body’s movement a kind of
depth that stays with it across all its transitions – accumulating in memory, in habit, in
reflection, in desire, in tendency. Emotion is the way the depth of that ongoing experi-
ence registers personally at a given moment. (Massumi 2002, p. 213)

Given that this research has only recently entered the social sciences, it remains
unclear how exactly it will transform our theories of identity, collective being and
action, and of course politics. What is clear though from the work of, for example,
Kathleen Stewart (2007) is that it offers us a much richer and more fine-grained
language to research and represent everyday practices, spaces and dynamics. In her
extraordinary book, Ordinary Affects, she argues that:

[the] ordinary is a shifting assemblage of practices and practical knowledges, a scene of


both liveness and exhaustion, a dream of escape or of the simple life. Ordinary affects
are the varied, surging capacities to affect and to be affected that give everyday life the
quality of continual motion of relations, scenes, contingencies, and emergences. They’re
things that happen. They happen in impulses, sensations, expectations, daydreams,
encounters and habits of relating, in strategies and their failures, in forms of persuasion,
contagion, and compulsion, in modes of attention, attachment, and agency, and in
publics and social worlds of all kinds that catch people up in something that feels like
something. (Stewart 2007, pp. 3–4)

This account of individual and social becoming forces a break with established theories
about false consciousness, whereby all classes in society get caught up in a compre-
hensive ideological web that undermines collective action and critical thought. An
affective conception of the social – firmly embedded in a biocultural ontology –
enables a more empowered and differentiated conception of agency in which all people
become more ‘autonomous’ and proactive actors in the construction of their lives and
socialities. Set against this reading, it becomes clear why I think it is so important to
learn from the attention to social detail in the work of Mamadou Diouf cited earlier.
The aspect that seems particularly potent to me is the idea of cultural practices that
allow people to rethink their relationship with the various spaces that they traverse and
mobilise in order to reproduce an existence in the city. Thus, if we circle back to the
60% of African urbanites who live in slums, we must acknowledge their incessant
efforts to find ways of breaking through the numbness that stems from having to carve
out an existence at the brutal end of daily life framed by routinised processes of exclu-
sion, exploitation and discrimination – processes that demand a stylised resignation to
one’s fate because, at least, there are always small mercies to be counted: not being as
badly off as someone else; the prospect of a better life in the hereafter or somewhere
else when the moment of migration finally arrives; the prospect of immediate and
18 E. Pieterse

recurring pleasures that reside at the other end of a bottle, or spliff, or sex, or dance-
hall, or church, or mosque, or brotherhood meeting, or tailor’s fitting, or another
episode of a Nollywood soap opera, or well-worn string of gossip, and so on. In
rehearsing the mundane pleasures of banal escapism that suture the lives of the urban
poor or popular classes, I am not making a moral argument about false consciousness
or ideological indoctrination, but rather suggesting the importance of reading the
affective functions of popular practices, because it is only through the redeployment
of such registers that one can begin to fathom what is going on in the real city, and
potentially animate a resonant engagement with the city.

Grasping in the dark


All of the above may suggest that I believe it is impossible to intervene in African cities
in order to create ‘order’, access to basic human entitlements, economic resilience and
inclusion and functioning political institutions. On the contrary, given my intellectual
awakening in the midst of the Wilson and Rowntree strike in 1981, when I was almost
expelled on my second day at high school for distributing solidarity pamphlets, I
remain first and foremost an activist for purposive change, even though my tools of
revolution may, ironically, have shifted from the street to the classroom. In fact, all of
the above for me adds up to a much more refined political acuity that is a prerequisite
for strategic and effective politics of a kind that deserves rigorous scholarship. This
clarification is a good point at which to turn to a consideration of the kind of research
agenda that arises from this type of problematisation of the literature on African cities.
Building on some of the methodological considerations flagged earlier in this
paper, my aim is to construct interdisciplinary exchanges along the spectrum of the
aesthetic and functional in the banal mundaneness of everyday practices in African
cities. With ‘the aesthetic’ I have in mind the ineluctable demands of beauty, desire
and transgression that bubble up from all of our subconscious to anchor and orient our
engagement with the world, the city and its infinite myths, of course always heavily
inflected by popular cultures. By ‘functionalism’ I wish to signal pragmatic require-
ments of dwelling, mobility, sociality and economy that require all urbanites to inces-
santly negotiate the imperatives of their livelihood and wellbeing. Given that our
interior and exterior impulses are intertwined, I am convinced that we cannot access a
satisfactory, even if always partial, account of cityness in Africa without mining this
border zone where the subjective and the material collide.
Practically, the African Centre for Cities has initiated a sustained, even if periodic,
dialogue amongst urbanists, artists with an interest in the phenomenology of the city,
and cultural practitioners who work on and through the spatialities of the city.15 This
dialogue is being structured around five sets of issues/questions in order to flesh out
the aesthetic–functional spectrum of cityness: senses of belonging, attachments, zones
of contact, deal-making and lines of movement. I will briefly explore each of these
lines of enquiry below.
First, what are the senses of belonging that ordinary cityzens feel, display, mobilise,
invest in and invariably ambiguate when the need arises? Does the city offer a distinc-
tive context in which the dichotomies simply dissipate in the wake of what people do
– often have to do – to keep as many senses of belonging as possible in play? Also,
when the severity of urban violence or evictions or extortion gets too overwhelming
and people turn to new religious formations that offer a host of access points to various
kinds of support and intelligence, do these new sites of belonging and community
Social Dynamics 19

replace former ones, or do they simply add to an expansive set of identities and belong-
ings? How does the work of belonging and social association impact on the spatiality
of the city? What roles do the new places of congregation, association, leisure and
ambling play as gravitational points in subtle and highly malleable geographies of
affiliation and distinction?
Second, what are the attachments that city dwellers display? Which attachments
matter more than others? Are attachments to consumables more or less important than
social ones? Do commodity obsessions and social attachments implicate particular
places over others? Can attachments be disentangled in such ways? How do conflicts
over, particularly, consumer and gendered attachments shape inter-generational and
inter-class conflicts in the city? How are attachments embodied, especially amongst
the youth who invest greatly to demonstrate their mastery of particular styles and fash-
ions in order to advance their range of opportunities for inclusion, mobility, access and
of course, belonging? And again, what kinds of spatial geographies are discernable
when we trace and expose the shifting waters of desire and aspiration as reflected in
the work of attachment?
Third, how can we define, uncover and understand the multiple zones of contact
across a variety of social and identity boundaries? This theme builds on the rich oeuvre
of AbdouMaliq Simone (2004, 2010) that demonstrates how even in the most divided
and internecine contexts, groups who are supposed to be enemies and implacably
engaged in (violent) conflict can still be counted on to find zones of interaction and
cooperation in the endless search for opportunity and intelligence (Simone 1994). In
other words, in most African cities there are counter-intuitive processes underway to
redeploy the seeming insularity of groups in order to achieve certain kinds of mobili-
sation. Given the intimate connection between levels of poverty, inequality and
economic exclusion and the hardening of social group identities and conflicts, is it not
essential to begin to understand these counter-intuitive processes better? Is this not one
of the key specificities of the African urban condition that can aid our search for a
more grounded and fleshed-out account of African cityness?
Fourth, and closely related to the previous vector of daily practice, is the question
of deal-making. There is now a considerable body of scholarship that provides insight
into the elaborate and intricate processes whereby agreements are forged to cooperate
in order to achieve some modest access to cash, information, favours, goods, the
possibility of a reciprocal turn in the future (a kind of futures trading of sorts). At the
same time this body of work also reveals a constitutive fragility to these processes,
because there are so many players and events and forces that could ruin the deal even
before it is completely hatched. Yet, despite the modest returns on deal-making, and
the incredible effort expended to simply be in the right place at the right time so as to
even be in the equation, the practice of deal-making is clearly endemic. Furthermore
there is a mimetic quality to it, because the generalised perception in the broader
public sphere is that the state, and especially state intervention, is quintessentially
about the art and violence of deal-making. This intimates a very different approach to
‘the political’ and the available avenues for rethinking it.
Lastly, and more in the symbolic domain, we could be asking what the various
lines of movement and transection are that ordinary people use to read, navigate and
represent the city. It is obviously impossible to find single or homogeneous
conceptions of the experiences and representations of space, but it would be interest-
ing to remap the geography of connectivities across the city from the perspective of
those who make these journeys all the time. These pathways and maps would link
20 E. Pieterse

back to the vectors dealing with senses of belonging discussed above, exercising
attachment and knowing where to be or not be. A completely different geography of
movement, open spaces, closed spaces, black holes, open thresholds and the like can
emerge if we take the care to surface and represent the navigational registers that
underpin daily routines and imaginary obsessions with more ambitious migrations to
foreign lands and opportunities.
These vectors of the everyday are of course not exhaustive or adequately compre-
hensive, but can register a start to a qualitatively different research engagement with
the material and sensory dimensions and folds of everyday urbanism. However, if we
are to truly benefit from a focus on specific slivers of locality production, our endeav-
ours must be infused with a full appreciation of the spatial turn that I addressed briefly
earlier on, and which shines through the fertile work of scholars such as Mamadou
Diouf, Okwui Enwezor, Matt Gandy, Joyce Nyairo, Sarah Nuttall and AbdouMaliq
Simone, amongst many others.
Within this broad framework that I will advance in concert with a network of
scholars and artists across the continent, my own, more concrete research will
explore the potential for democratic renewal through public culture interventions that
seek to engage and enrol citizens in more creative ways. This will tie in with a more
specific interest in the practices of a new generation of urban social movements that
one finds in most slums of the global South; movements that use their existing power
to build cities as a source of collective power to fashion much more autonomous,
realist and utopian-pragmatist discourses and practices to generate new forms of poli-
tics. At the same time, I hope to continue my own more policy-oriented explorations
into the political-economic-cultural drivers of urban regulatory systems, so as to
speed up the unavoidable transition to low-carbon networked infrastructures. Of
course, all of these themes flow through the broader notion of relational governance
and politics (Pieterse 2008).
I hope that I have succeeded in demonstrating that as yet the African city remains
an elusive mirage clouded by limited data and inadequate theoretical approaches that
prevent us from coming to terms with the immensely complex, but also generative,
dynamism of the spatial alchemy that can only be sensed there, or should I say, here.
Clearly, for both what we know and do not know, the African city is indeed an edge,
a site of danger, for there are impossibly many dimensions to grasp at once.

Acknowledgements
This paper is a version of an inaugural lecture delivered at the University of Cape Town on 26
August 2009. I have opted to keep the inaugural lecture tone and style in the reworking of it
for this special issue of Social Dynamics. I want to thank the reviewers for their feedback and
Kim Gurney and Karen Press for editorial support.

Notes
1. ‘Autoconstruction’ is a term deployed by James Holston (1991), building on the work of
anthropologist, Geert Banck (1986), to capture the rich aesthetic sensibilities that go into
the incessant process of building and adapting informal houses on the peripheries of Brazil
cities.
2. This rate is slower than those of earlier periods: the average growth rate during 1965–1975
was 4.65% and between 1985–1990, 4.16%, and this is slowing to 3.1% between 2005–
2010 (UN-HABITAT and ADB 2008, p. ix).
Social Dynamics 21

3. It is important to heed Satterthwaite’s (2007) caution that urban projections that go too far
into the future, e.g. 2030, must be treated with great circumspection because the underlying
data sets for many developing countries remain extremely problematic.
4. One illustration of this comes from a survey conducted by the United Nations (2008): In
2007, 74% of African governments were concerned that their countries were becoming too
urban too quickly and 78% had active policies to reduce migration to urban agglomerations.
5. This is drawn from a sample of eleven sub-Saharan African countries for which data were
available.
6. It is important to bear in mind the differences between economic, household and public
infrastructures. Economic infrastructure refers broadly to connectivity infrastructures such
as roads, ports, airports, stations and other transportation or information and communica-
tion network systems. Household infrastructures include water, sanitation, energy, waste
removal and, in some countries like South Africa, the physical house and the land it is
located on which are provided free to the poor. Public infrastructures refer to public good
resources and spaces such as streets, pavements, squares, parks, community halls, libraries,
markets (which can also be an economic infrastructure, of course), and so on. Typically,
powerful classes and interest groups who drive the economy have a disproportionate say in
which kinds of infrastructures will be prioritised, and where exactly. The consequence of
these dynamics is a deepening of urban poverty, cemented by inequality, laying the foun-
dation for long-term uneven development. This argument is explored at greater length in
Pieterse (2008) and Parnell, Pieterse and Watson (2009).
7. In Long’s (2001, p. 241) conceptualisation, ‘lifeworld’ refers to a ‘“lived-in” and largely
“taken-for-granted” social world centring on particular individuals. Such worlds should not
be viewed as “cultural backcloths” that frame how individuals act, but instead as a product
of an individual’s own constant self-assembling and re-evaluating of relationships and
experiences. Lifeworlds embrace actions, interactions and meanings, and are identified
with specific socio-geographical spaces and life histories.’
8. For an insightful overview of how these social erosions have unfolded and shaped contem-
porary African politics and economics, see Chabal (2009).
9. For an elaboration on phronesis through case study research, see Flyvbjerg (2001, 2004).
10. These readings and conclusions also come through in the arresting work of anthropologists
Filip de Boeck and Marie-Françoise Plissart (2004) on Kinshasa, Dominique Malaquais
(2006) on Douala, and Suzanne Scheld (2007) on Dakar.
11. For a jargon-free introduction to these theories, see Byrne (2001).
12. See the special issue on urban informality in Habitat Debate, Volume 13 (2), 2007.
13. On this point specifically, see Rakodi, (2002). I do not have space here to explore the
counter-arguments to a postcolonial epistemological stance, for example those advanced by
Zeleza (2004). Drawing on a very US-focused academic cultural milieu, he arrives at a very
different understanding about what postcolonialism refers to compared to my own reading.
I work with an approach that concurs with the readings offered by Sylvester (1999),
Ahluwalia (2001) and Robinson (2006).
14. This statement is drawn from Wikipedia.
15. For example, Emeka Ogboh is working on how the daily rhythms of the city influence
different activities taking place – this is explored through the recording of urban sound-
scapes, combined with photographic representation and an interactive web-based archive.
Julia Raynham’s intervention, ‘City Body Continent’, is a Pan-African project, which
captures on film a series of site-specific urban interventions, created by collaborative teams
comprising a choreographer and architect-artist-designer, in five Africa cities: Casablanca
(Morocco), Nairobi (Kenya), Dakar (Senegal), Lagos (Nigeria) and Durban (South Africa).

Notes on contributor
Edgar Pieterse is holder of the DST/NRF South African Research Chair in Urban Policy. He
directs the African Centre for Cities and is Professor in the School of Architecture, Planning
and Geomatics, both at the University of Cape Town. Recent publications include: City
Futures: Confronting the Crisis of Urban Development (Zed Books, 2008); Counter-Currents:
Experiments in Sustainability in the Cape Town region (Jacana, 2010); and The African Cities
Reader: Pan-African Practices (Chimurenga & ACC, 2010).
22 E. Pieterse

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