Uncertain times, contested resources: Discursive practices and lived realities in African urban environments

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Amid the diversity of African urbanism, most cities retain strong vestiges of inherited urban planning systems largely inappropriate to prevailing local conditions. Even where largely ignored in practice, they can be suddenly redeployed in the interests of elite projects—either specific construction sites and inappropriate new ‘international’ or ‘world class’ enclaves, or broader repressive political agendas. Such episodes, but also less dramatic daily practices, highlight the gulfs between elite perceptions and priorities and the needs of often impoverished ‘ordinary’ citizens whose grip on urban environmental resources and services is frequently precarious, but essential. The implications of environmental/climate changes, which are becoming increasingly real in many urban areas, are also examined in this light. Drawing on both political economy and post-structural/postcolonial approaches in search of hybridised theoretical progress, the paper explores how elite preoccupations and interests confront the diverse and often culturally rich lived realities of the urban majorities and their respective contingent senses of identity and belonging. The former remain framed by discourses of modernity expressed in terms of segregated land uses, aesthetics and ‘order’, whereas the latter generally relate to more mundane instrumentalities of shelter, basic services and survival/livelihood strategies in complex social realities, sometimes giving rise to syncretic or novel alternative cultures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-238
Number of pages23
Issue number2-3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Apr 2015

Cite this