The African continent is rapidly urbanizing (1.2 billion Africans will reside in cities by 2030) absent the employment opportunities historically associated with cities and lacking the conventional facilities, infrastructures, and technologies that are generally associated with urban life. While many efforts to “modernize,” redesign, and re-plan African cities focus on making them “world class”—serving as urban gateways to Africa for a new elite and technically proficient class—cities from Lagos to Kigali are equally shaped by the activities, needs, and desires of those displaced, precisely to accommodate such efforts at modernization. As one response to such trends this course challenges some of the predominant ways in which “development” is understood to be occurring in African urban centers to think about the paradoxes of development in relation to informal and unplanned infrastructure and the new modes of life, livelihood, and leisure that are emerging in concert with formal architecture and design. Two conditions arise from these contradictory tendencies to urbanization and informal development: the one is a prevailing sense of crisis and precarity; the other, in the form of a response, is ingenuity in the face of crisis. Ingenuity comes in many forms including the corralling of resources, the building of informal homes, and in a general disposition to “getting by” in the face of limited resources, services, and infrastructures. Acknowledging these as the operative conditions of African city life, how then do such cities (Accra, Johannesburg, or Kinshasa, for example) invite us to reimagine what we understand by terms such as “development,” “employment,” “infrastructure” or indeed “citizenship”? This course will begin to explore some of these questions attending to the many ways in which residents of African cities and African residents of cities in the Diaspora, including in Italy and the United States, find ways to imagine futures beyond the limitations of the present.
This course aligns with the Cities and Global Change specialization track inclusive of the question of “Creative City-ness in the Global South.”
Students will gain a rigorous understanding of the processes of urbanization, informalization, and rural-urban lifeways.
Class Participation 30%
Reading Responses 20%
Class Participation (for 30% of your overall grade): In addition to weekly engagement during the conversation around the readings and themes of the class period, each student is asked to guide class discussion once (possibly twice) during the semester by preparing a more extended presentation on the readings for that week.
Assigned readings, available on Moodle, should be read in the order they are listed in the syllabus. In some weeks there is a fair amount of reading so look ahead and begin reading well in advance of the week’s class sessions!
Reading Responses (Posted to Moodle) (for 20% of your overall grade): By midnight Monday of each week, please post on Moodle 2-3 questions in response to the week’s readings. Describe what in the readings you found most compelling. And relay why those questions are important for the class to consider.
Essays (for 50% of your overall grade): A first shorter essay (pp. 7) worth 20% of your overall grade is due Friday, April 7 at 5:00PM via email. We will discuss length, breadth, content, and strategy for this shorter assignment in the first few weeks of the semester.
A second longer essay (pp. 10-12) worth 30% of your overall grade should be a synthetic essay on a topic of your choice (to be developed in consultation with the instructor). This second essay is due Friday, May 26 at 5:00PM via email.
Assessment: is based on your ability to submit quality work in a timely manner; on your attendance and engagement in seminar; and on your written assignments.
Last updated: March 20, 2023