Urban environments are at the nexus of an extensive social transformation in Africa. New political forms, increased participation of broad populations, and the emergence of new discourses of citizenship are taking place in contexts of massive demographic change, encounters and crossings across laminated and stratified identities of race, ethnicity, class, language, sexuality and gender and technological innovation. These developments are fuelled by vertical and horizontal processes of globalisation refigured through the particularities of the local urban context and local institutions. On the one hand, these developments are part of the formation of a constructive and constitutive urban citizenry that is increasingly ‘assuming control’, where urban residents and commercial developers are proclaiming, reclaiming, appropriating and creating new spaces via actions as diverse as settlement and construction, urban design, place (re)naming, festivals and monumentalism. On the other hand, contemporary urban spaces and trajectories are also formed in multivocal narratives of historical, social and geographical displacement, reflecting difficult encounters and uneasy departures, anomie and estrangement, invisibility and lost memorabilia, fluid heritage and buried icons of identity and belonging as central features of the mundane urban sensibilities of the new urban citizenry.
A considerable amount of research into cities – and consequently of policy making – is based on an unreconstructed paradigm of empiricist urban research that treats urban places as more or less fixed, technical objects. Urban planners and policy makers work with the formally built and managed environment. By contrast, the myriad personal daily actions, activities, events and conversations that endlessly constitute and reconstitute cities in the image of their inhabitants are less well accounted for. This is especially the case for the sensibilities and emotional geographies of city space (fear, apprehension, and their modes of narration and performance), as well as the semiotics and performance of violence and contestation in urban spaces, feeling in and out of place in the quotidian (re)making and meaning(s) of the city. The conference will focus on such city sensibilities of the everyday and experiential, approaching the city as a social construction and as a social imaginary; exploring the production, consumption and appropriation of urban spaces, circulation within them, and the semiotics, spectacle and performativity of the urban.
The conference aims to bring together established and emerging researchers whose research treats urban spaces as highly differentiated and unstable sites, the nature and significance of which is constantly produced and consumed by citizens in their daily routine of accommodation, adjustment, negotiation and challenge; as a multifaceted social and cultural construction whose purpose and sustainability is in the hands of its residents. We seek to encourage the participation of theorists and practitioners within the fields of architecture, anthropology, film, literature, culture studies, visual art, history and urban studies, heritage, art and culture, linguistics and multilingual studies. One of our intentions is that those studying cities in different parts of the world will enter into dialogue with African city specialists.