African Cities Reader

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African_Cities_Reader_2In many senses African cities are amongst the most generative and vibrant places on the planet. Yet, we know next to nothing about what goes on in the places. Not that there is any shortage of caricature, hyperbole or opinion about what makes African cities such quintessential spaces of dystopia and atrophy. We believe that a range of interventions that seek to engage the shape-shifting essence of African cities are long overdue and present this modest initiative as one contribution to a larger movement of imagination to redefine the practical workings of the African city.

For us it is self-evident that one has to take the youthful demographic, informality and a non-conventional insertion in global circuits by African urbanites as a starting point for a sustained engagement and retelling of the city in contemporary Africa. The cultural, livelihood, religious, stylistic, commercial, familial, knowledge producing and navigational capacities of African urbanites are typically overlooked, unappreciated and undervalued. We want to bring their stories and practices to the fore in the African Cities Reader. In other words, the African Cities Reader seeks to become a forum where Africans will tell their own stories, draw their own maps and represent their own spatial topographies as it continuous to evolve and adapt at the interstice of difference, complexity, opportunism, and irony.

In terms of focus, tone and sensibility, the Reader will be vibrant, unapologetic, free, accessible and open, provocative, fresh, not take itself too seriously, but also be rigorous and premised on the assumption that it will grow and evolve over time.

The launch issue (2008/9) is organised around the theme: “Pan-African Practices”. The back story to this theme is the recognition that all African cities are the product of multiple trajectories and origins, which implies that that the living, breathing, pulsating fact of African cities adds up to a form of ‘pan-Africanism’ that is more interesting than the tired tropes of pan-African Nationalism that remains the stock and trade of many official discourses about transnational and trans-local practices on the continent. We believe that ‘pan-Africanism as a practice’ despite the repeated deaths of pan-Africanism as a nationalist discourse opens up multiple explorations into the spatial specificity of cities crafted in the border zones between informal/formal, licit/illicit, chaotic/ordered, etc. Furthermore, in terms of over-arching knowledge projects, we perceive a productive space between: on the one hand, the imperative to respond to and engage with the dismissal of blackness/blackhood by a stream of postcolonial philosophy – a move we suspect may be too soon and too definitive – and, on the other, the insistence of dominant discourses and institutions that some essentialist African exceptionalism and solidarity is possible. However, the idea is not to dwell here but simply to use the idea of materially and symbolically grounded practices to explore the public and popular cultural dimensions of pan-African cityness. Throughout, the critical focus will invariably fall on practices, phenomenologies and spatialities and their intersections.

Naturally, flowing from this exploratory vantage point, the African Cities Reader will be open to multiple genres (literature, philosophy, faction, reportage, ethnographic narrative, etc), forms of representation (text, image, sound and possibly performance), and points of view. The African Cities Reader will seek to embody and reflect the rich pluralism, cosmopolitanism and diversity of emergent urbanisms across Africa. Thus, the Reader invites and undertake to commission writing and art by practitioners, academics, activists and artists from diverse fields across Africa in all of her expansiveness.

See: http://www.africancitiesreader.org.za/

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