The term “urbanization” has come to describe a whole host of processes related to the growth of cites and the transformation of territory worldwide. This working group, led by Professors Reinhold Martin, Mamadou Diouf, and Brian Larkin, aims to reconsider that term’s usefulness in underwriting a critical framework for studying those processes. Although the ultimate aim is nothing less than to sketch an alternate framework, we begin by considering some details in the urbanization literature. Broadly, we note a bifurcation into two approaches: a developmentalist one, focusing on material, technological, and politico-economic processes; and a culturalist one, focusing on symbolic processes, national-cultural imaginaries, language, and so on.
We address the former with a focus on infrastructure, or the socio-technical systems and institutions that both connect and differentiate populations, and hence, spatio-temporally shape urban life. We address the latter with the question of representation, meaning the question of whose interests are served, both politically and symbolically, in any given city, the institutions that represent those interests, and the agency of representations in shaping the polis.
The working group has formed initially as a reading group, which will begin by discussing Mamadou Diouf’s and Rosalind Fredericks, eds., “The Arts of Citizenship in African Cities” (Palgrave, 2012) on September 20, 2016.