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HomeThinking cityness from East African cities

Thinking cityness from East African cities

Penser les citadinités depuis les villes d’Afrique de l’Est

“EchoGeo” – N° 67 (january-march 2024)

« EchoGeo » – N° 67 (janvier-mars 2024)

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Published on Wednesday, November 30, 2022 by Sarah Zingraff

Summary

This issue of EchoGeo seeks to explore East Africa’s contribution to the debate on cityness and city life in urban studies. This contribution has been growing over the past ten years, reflecting the accelerated urbanization of this part of the continent. Despite heterogeneous situations, the depth of the social transformations brought about by the urban transition has stirred major debates on city life and cityness in this part of Africa, once regarded as a bastion of African rurality. This initially led to the emergence of a scientific dialogue between East African cities themselves. However, this conversation has now opened up beyond this sub-region: researchers who work in East Africa have now engaged in broader international debates about city life, converse with urban scholars from other parts of the world, and are involved in comparative research projects that cross-cut regional divides (Rizzo and Atzeni, 2020).

Announcement

Argument

This issue of EchoGeo seeks to explore East Africa’s contribution to the debate on cityness and city life in urban studies. This contribution has been growing over the past ten years, reflecting the accelerated urbanization of this part of the continent. Despite heterogeneous situations, the depth of the social transformations brought about by the urban transition has stirred major debates on city life and cityness in this part of Africa, once regarded as a bastion of African rurality. This initially led to the emergence of a scientific dialogue between East African cities themselves. However, this conversation has now opened up beyond this sub-region: researchers who work in East Africa have now engaged in broader international debates about city life, converse with urban scholars from other parts of the world, and are involved in comparative research projects that cross-cut regional divides (Rizzo and Atzeni, 2020).

We understand the concepts of city life and cityness in a very broad sense, as the set of processes, practices, and representations through which individuals shape their material, symbolic, economic, and political place within urban societies. The contributions of this issue will thus explore issues such as socialization matrices, the gradual acquisition of practical skills in an urban context, or the mechanisms through which individuals give meaning to their presence in the city (for example, by identifying with the values of a group, or by constructing intergenerational narratives). Altogether, these approaches will contribute to documenting the profound social transformations that East African societies have undergone since the region’s urban turn.

Although they do not necessarily use the terms cityness or city life, many publications in the field of East African urban studies investigate the political, social, cultural, economic, as well as the affective and emotional dimensions of the relationship between individuals and cities. However, this work remains largely unknown in the French-speaking academic world, and particularly in France, for linguistic reasons but also because of the historical structuring of postcolonial research partnerships. Our objective with this issue is to facilitate the dissemination in France of recent scholarship on city life and cityness in East Africa by a wide range of researchers, drawing specifically from English-language publications. We do not argue that East African cities are different from other cities of the world or that they have any kind of distinctive or specific features (Fouéré and Maupeu, 2015; see also Calas, 2001): rather, we aim at approaching city life from the perspective of East Africa and shedding light on this topic from the point of view of this region’s cities, situations and diverse urban configurations.

This objective of this issue of Echogéo is therefore twofold: on the one hand, we seek to explore the place occupied by East Africa in international debates on city life and cityness; on the other hand, we aim at questioning the ability of these works to enrich or challenge a range of concepts, assumptions, or categories that currently shape the international debate on city life. By deciphering the specific objects and concepts that structure the scientific debates and contemporary research anchored in fine-grained empirical fieldwork in East Africa, we seek to help renew our understanding of city life from a Southern and African perspective. We will therefore assess how these works resonate with research on city life and cityness in international urban studies, particularly from the French-speaking world. This should lead us to question the provincialism of our perspective, often too French-centric or North-centric, in light of current debates on the need for a South-led re-conceptualization of our understanding of city life.

The conversation on city life and cityness in East Africa embraces a wide range of issues and objects. We propose to build on existing research findings to open up and enrich the debate on cityness in East Africa.

Topic Proposals

We will welcome contributions addressing some of these ongoing debates, including the following questions.

How do city dwellers build a relationship with the State and legitimize their presence in the city through their everyday practices?

A whole body of literature considers, for example, how city dwellers deal with “hybrid” regimes that combine democratic opening with authoritarian practices (Perrot et al. 2014 on Uganda), or how they position themselves in relation to government practices marked by a form of institutional “hybridity”. It often requires people to develop a range of tactics in response to the volatility of State practices. Moreover, the opacity of decision-making, as well as the emergence of new actors involved in major urban and infrastructure projects (Chinese stakeholders, in particular), contribute to the crystallization of ambivalent urban representations, where hope goes along with a sense of anxiety caused by perceptions of arbitrariness and injustice (Di Nunzio, 2019; Kimari, 2021). The most vulnerable populations, especially the poor or migrant populations, who are targeted and criminalized by urban authorities, develop strategies of resistance through various levers: building empathy and visibility through community activism, legitimizing their anchoring within the city’s physical or symbolic space, or negotiating their presence in the city.

How are urban communities structured by groups formed on the basis of social belonging or affinity?

This question is the subject of a major, longstanding debate in Africa, looking at the role of cities and urbanization in processes of affiliation, disaffiliation, or social reorganization. In the major metropolitan areas, the emergence of a generation that grew up in the city has given rise to a new reflection on the sense of belonging to a social group – now described by some authors in terms of “milieu” (Stoll, 2018), or in terms of mutually permeable classes of practice (religious milieus, young professionals, neo-traditional milieus, etc.). Other scholars continue to think in terms of class, in the Marxist sense, insisting on the weight of domination and exploitation, and on the proletarianization arising in urban environments, especially at the work place. The specificity of certain national contexts (post-socialism in Tanzania or neo-liberalization in Ethiopia, for example) and the relative emergence of urban societies in East Africa both shed new light on the modalities of belonging to urban societies.

The interrelations between social groups within cities

For example, in metropolitan areas, the importance and visibility of large poverty areas linked to unplanned housing (slums) have brought the focus on subaltern urban living, characterized by uncertainty, precariousness, and institutionalized criminalization. In addition, a number of East African cities are, to varying degrees, marked by the conflicts that affect, or have affected, the region. These conflicts have left their mark on urban societies, sometimes leading to the stigmatization of certain groups or individuals. The contours of these stigmatized urban populations have been the object of studies addressing the topic at different scales – a social group in the city, a neighborhood that crystallizes suspicions of terrorism, or an individual life trajectory. Alongside these figures of social marginality, East Africa is also witnessing the emergence of social figures of inclusion into the neoliberal economy (Morange, 2015), which reveal other forms of injustice and inequality, for example regarding the diffusion of new digital technologies; or figures of transnational circulation, whose connection to the city amounts to the experience of a sometimes remote place. This literature explores the ordinary forms of “middle-class” city life, and people’s ability to navigate between fragmented urban worlds (Lanne, 2018) and between urban and rural areas, as well as the cosmopolitanism of everyday life.

How to identify and compare specific forms of urban sociability in these cities?

For example, recent debates around the notions of “hustle” (Kinyanjui, 2019; Thieme, Ference, and Stapele, 2021), without any direct translation in French and in French urban studies, shed new light on the practical forms of living in uncertain conditions. This urban figure, combining experiences of struggle and solidarity with a political sense of resistance, has circulated beyond the slums and can apply to city life within other marginalized urban spaces in East Africa.

The importance of city for migration trajectories; the new spaces of circulation between cities, or between urban and rural areas

This can include for example, but not exclusively, studies exploring specific forms of city life and cityness in small towns. In this context, which remains understudied, city life is associated with strong mobility between urban and rural areas, or between the small towns themselves, in particular as far as commercial and entrepreneurial activities are concerned (Mainet and Kihonge, 2015; Racaud, 2020).

The editors do not wish to restrict the scope of this issue to the objects and questions outlined above, as these would not suffice to extensively reflect the current conversation on city life in East African. Beyond these debates, some of which are already the object of extensive research, we are keen to hear from contributors who seek to explore innovative approaches. Two examples of such approaches are outlined below on an indicative basis, but we remain open to other innovative suggestions:

  • long-term perspectives on urban lives, the temporalities of urban lives, and the role of inter-generational relations in people’s relations to the city;
  • Studies addressing methodological issues – for example, how to observe the impact of digital practices on city life.

On a more general level, contributors are invited to think across languages in order to reshape existing concepts: this can include drawing from African languages, but also navigating diverse fields and theoretical approaches. Comparisons between East Africa and other regions around the world, as well as theoretical efforts to compare notions from different bibliographic sources, also fall within the scope of this special issue. Contributions in English, especially from East African colleagues, are strongly encouraged.

The term “East Africa” is used in the broadest sense, as embracing the very vast area stretching from Madagascar to the Horn of Africa, from the Great Lakes (including Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern DRC) to Kenya, Tanzania and the Swahili coast. As urban studies imply thinking about extensive forms of circulation and connections, the geographical scope of this issue also fully includes the islands of the western Indian Ocean (Comoros, Mayotte, Seychelles, Zanzibar, Mauritius, and Reunion). Finally, while we consider that the region ends at South Africa’s first circle of influence (Mozambique and Zimbabwe), we do not exclude Zambia and Malawi in the South, and the two Sudans in the North.

How to apply

The articles in this issue may be written in French, English or Spanish and contain between 35,000 and 40,000 characters (plus illustrations).

Please refer to the author recommendations for guidelines on how to present the text, bibliography, abstracts and illustrations, as set out in the editorial guidelines.

Texts may also be submitted on this topic for other EchoGeo’s quarterly sections: “Sur le Métier” (Geography as a professionnal practice), “Sur l’Image” (On Image) and “Sur l’Écrit” (On Writing). They must comply with the expectations of each section, as set out in the editorial lines. For example, editors of the On Image section expect texts that provoke reflection on the status of image in geographical research and/or writing.

All proposals must be sent

by 15 July 2023

to Jean-Baptiste Lanne (jean-baptiste.lanne@u-paris.fr) and Marianne Morange, (marianne.morange@inalco.fr), who are the coordinators of this feature, with a copy sent to Karine Delaunay (EchoGeo@univ-paris1.fr), Editorial Secretary, who will send them to the reviewer(s). The feature will be published in issue n° 67 (January-March 2024).

Coordinators of the issue

Members of the Committees

Publication Director

  • Serge Weber, Professeur

Editorial Committee

  • Jean-Louis Chaléard, Professeur émérite, Université Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne
  • Muriel Côte, Senior lecturer
  • Nathalie Fau, Maître de conférences
  • Monique Fort, Professeur Émérite des Universités, Université Paris Diderot
  • Gaëlle Gillot, co-responsable de la rubrique Sur le Métier, Maître de conférences à l’Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, UMR IEDES.
  • Frédéric Giraut, Professeur, Université de Genève
  • Géraud Magrin, co-responsable de la rubrique Sur le Vif, Professeur des Universités, Université Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne
  • Anaïs Marshall, co-responsable de la rubrique Sur l’image, Maître de conférences
  • Thierry Nicolas, Maître de conférences à l’Université de Guyane. Chercheur au laboratoire MINEA (Migrations, INterculturalité et Education en Amazonie).
  • Annaig Oiry
  • Laetitia Perrier-Bruslé, co-responsable de la rubrique Sur l’Image, Maître de conférences, Université de Nancy 2, laboratoire Loterr
  • Marie Redon, co-responsable de la rubrique Sur le Vif, Maître de conférences, Université Paris 13
  • Thierry Sanjuan, Professeur des universités, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
  • Alexis Sierra, co-responsable de la rubrique Sur le Métier, Maître de conférences, Cergy-Pontoise-IUFM
  • Jean Fabien Steck, co-responsable de la rubrique Sur l’Ecrit, Maître de conférences à l’Université de Paris Nanterre - Equipe Mosaïques, UMR 7218 LAVUE.
  • François Taglioni, Professeur
  • Jean Marie Théodat, Maître de conférences, Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne
  • Christian Vandermotten, Professeur ordinaire émérite, Université libre de Bruxelles - Membre de la classe des Lettres de l’Académie Royale de Belgique
  • Leïla Vignal, Professeure, ENS Ulm

Bibliography

Calas B., 2011. Élargir l’horizon… Approches de l’Afrique orientale depuis ses villes. Mémoire d’Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches, Université de Bordeaux.

Di Nunzio M., 2019. The Act of Living. Street life, Marginaliy and Development in Urban Ethiopia. Ithaca-Londres, Cornell University Press

Fouéré M.-A., Maupeu H., 2015. Une nouvelle Afrique de l’Est ? Afrique contemporaine, n° 253, p. 13‑35.

Fournet-Guérin C., 2021. Everyday Cosmopolitanism in African Cities: Places of Leisure and Consumption in Antananarivo and Maputo. In Lejeune C., Pagès-El Karoui D., Schmoll C., Thiollet H. (ed.), Migration, Urbanity and Cosmopolitanism in a Globalized World. Cham, Springer International Publishing, p. 89‑100. DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-67365-9_7

Kimari W., 2021. ‘Under Construction’: Everyday Anxieties and the Proliferating Social Meanings of China in Kenya. Africa [En ligne], vol. 91, n° 1, p. 135‑52. DOI : https://doi.org/10.1017/S0001972020000996

Kinyanjui M.N., 2019. African Markets and the Utu-buntu Business Model. A perspective on economic informality in Nairobi. Cape Town, African Minds Publishers. URI : http://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/24885

Lanne J.-B., 2018. Des vies en veille. Géographies abandonnées des acteurs quotidiens de la sécurité à Nairobi. Thèse de Doctorat, Université Bordeaux Montaigne.

Morange M., 2015. Street trade, neoliberalisation and the control of space: Nairobi’s Central Business District in the era of entrepreneurial urbanism. Journal of Eastern African Studies, vol. 9, n° 2, p. 247-269. URL: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01468094/document

Perrot S., Makara S., Fouéré M.-A., Lafargue J. (ed.), 2014. Elections in a Hybrid Regime: Revisiting the 2011 Ugandan Polls. Fountain Publishers/IFRA.

Racaud S., 2020. Commerce bon marché de la ville à la campagne au Kenya. In Fouéré M.-A., Pommerolle M.-E., Thibon C. (ed.), Le Kenya en marche. 2000-2020. Paris-Nairobi, Africae. URL : https://books.openedition.org/africae/2042 ?lang =fr

Rizzo M. Atzeni M., 2020. Workers’ Power in Resisting Precarity: Comparing Transport Workers in Buenos Aires and Dar Es Salaam. Work, Employment and Society [En ligne], vol. 34, n° 6, p. 1114‑1130. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017020928248

Ruteere M., Mutahi P., Mitchell B., Lind L., 2013. Missing the Point: Violence Reduction and Policy Misadventures in Nairobi’s Poor Neighbourhoods. Brighton, IDS (Institute of Development Studies Report, n° 39). URI: https://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/opendocs/handle/20.500.12413/3192

Stoll F., 2018. The City and Its Ways of Life: Local Influences on Middle-Income Milieus in Nairobi. International Development Policy | Revue Internationale de Politique de Développement, n° 10, p. 275‑301. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/poldev.2759

Thieme T., Ference M.E., van Stapele N., 2021. Harnessing the ‘Hustle’: Struggle, Solidarities and Narratives of Work in Nairobi and beyond. Introduction. Africa [En ligne], vol. 91, n° 1, p. 1‑15, DOI : https://doi.org/10.1017/S0001972020000819


Date(s)

  • Monday, July 31, 2023

Keywords

  • citadinite, Afrique de l'Est, études urbaines, tournant urbain

Contact(s)

  • Marianne Morange
    courriel : marianne [dot] morange [at] inalco [dot] fr
  • Jean-Baptiste Lanne
    courriel : jean-baptiste [dot] lanne [at] u-paris [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Karine Delaunay
    courriel : karine [dot] delaunay [at] ird [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Thinking cityness from East African cities », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, November 30, 2022, https://calenda.org/1035532

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