The Urbane Ecologist

Simone, A.M. (2001) “On the Worlding of African Cities”

In African Studies Review, vol. 44, no. 2

  • “Notions of world cities point to new economic capacities and infrastructures which construct, assemble, and channel flows of information, goods, and influences (Agnew & Corbridge 1998; Balibar 995; Castells 1996a; Johnson, Taylor & Watts 1995; Leyshon & Thrift 1998). But perhaps more important, they constitute a way of identifying and speaking about an arena of operation that is not limited simply to new forms of monopolization (Taylor 2000).”
  • African cities, with the possible exception of Jo-burg, are nowhere close to being world cities; instead are sites of intensifying and broadening impoverishment and rampant informality
    • no long-term viability
    • substantial restructuring over past decade
  • decentralization
  • “In many respects…the operations of global economics make it nearly impossible for many Africans to continue functioning “inside” their cities. A seemingly arbitrary circulation of the unknown has penetrated these cities… As the “insides” of African cities are more differentially linked to proliferating networks of accumulation and circulation operating at also increasingly differentiated scales, this uncertainty is “materialized”. In other words, it takes the forms of specific bodies and identities, in which…specific locations, and built environments, are seen to embody particular forces of well-being and success.”
  • Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (1990)
  • “An uneasy mixture of external imposition and local redeployment of selective appropriations of that imposition shaped most African cities (Anderson & Rathbone 2000; Diouf 1998; Mabogunje 1990). As such, these cities exist in a universe of being rooted “everywhere and nowhere.” But at the same time, they have an extensive history of being subject to often highly idiosyncratic compromises, social and economic arrangements that make them very “localized” whatever the series of networks and external connections in which they “participate”.”
  • appear in incessant state of preparedness
  • decentralization, local management, exigencies of poverty alleviation, and regionally articulated local economic development are in significant ways a reformulation of instruments to evolve urban life according to the conditions that would ensure a very specific engagement with nonlocal worlds, and particularly, non-African worlds
  • “Cities have been the places where Africans have most intensely engaged the conflicts precipitated by their own points of view, their political and economic practices, and their heterogeneous, often contradictory, representations of outside worlds. cities were also places where Africans’ own strivings and deliberations about present and future ways of living were the most adamantly structured by the wavering demands of external powers. Regulating the city became a map for regulating the territory of colonial jurisdiction.”
  • “Developments in cities enabled the rural areas to produce and organize themselves in different ways.”
  • “African cities were largely constructed as points of contact–as places to organize the evacuation of resources and to construct mechanisms through which broader territories could be administered. While they continue to play this role in the postcolonial period, critical points of convergence and articulation with the global economy do, however, take place outside these functions.”
  • Purpose of this paper: “talk about one example of how processes of informalization “free up” a wide range of actors to participate in an emerging, albeit limited, configuration of “world level” transactions that emerge from the initiatives of Africans themselves.”


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