Two-day conference on May 6 and 7 on the campus of Columbia University in Manhattan’s Upper West Side :
The African metropolis represents one of the most challenging and important spaces of our time. Insight on African cities has driven some of the most innovative and provocative recent scholarly debates considering development, the nature of citizenship, and the postcolonial urban condition. In contrast with a familiar, sometimes apocalyptic reading of “failed” African cities which characterizes them as dysfunctional, chaotic and decaying, there is a burgeoning scholarship which explores the way that African cities actually work and the very orderly, dynamic, and creative processes which animate them. This is part of a larger literature emphasizing the need to incorporate African political systems into more cosmopolitan urban and development theories. In line with this larger enterprise, this conference highlights research at the cutting edge of African studies seeking to re-conceptualize the nature and contours of citizenship in African cities. It advances budding scholarship reframing urban citizenship through showcasing emergent and historic practices through which urban Africans enact and reconfigure their cities, while asking some hard questions about the implications of these strategies and their limits.
In particular, the conference focuses on the art of citizenship—or the specific imaginaries and creative solidarities through which urban Africans understand, order, and stake claims around the rights, rewards, and spaces of the city. In addition to chapters extending the analytical purchase of theories of African cities, the conference foregrounds ethnographic studies exploring those new theories and practices. It aims to interrogate the intersections between the physical infrastructure and planning of African cities with the social infrastructure contained in forms of collective action and cultural imaginaries. As such, it examines the socio-cultural underpinnings of citizenship struggles, or the systems of solidarity, identification, and representation through which urban Africans build—and negotiate—infrastructures and stake claims to spaces and rights to the city. Beyond shedding new light on how we understand these cities, this endeavor promises to recalibrate knowledge of how the city works, the contours of fundamental city-ness, and what it means to be a citizen in Africa and beyond.
Speakers include Abdoumaliq Simone, Peter Geschiere, Paul Nugent, Ciraj Rasool, Giles Omezi, Martin Murray, Hannah Appel, Andy Clarno, Michael Ralph, Kenda Mutongi, Claire Decoteau and Antina von Schnitzler.