The Visible and Invisible: Remaking Cities in Africa

Simone, AbdouMaliq. 2003. The Visible and Invisible: Remaking Cities in Africa. In: Okwui Ewenzor; Carlos Basualdo; Ute Meta Bauer; Susanne Ghez; Sarat Maharaj; Mark Nash and Octavio Zaya, eds. Under Siege: Four African Cities: Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos. Germany: Hatje Cantz Publishers. ISBN 978-3775790901 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Across urban Africa there is a great preoccupation with death. Death not so much as the termination of life – although the intensifying difficulties faced by people in proliferating conflict, economic debilitation, and HIV/AIDS do amplify such a connotation. But more powerful is the sense of death related to the capacity for sudden transformations, of being able to completely transform oneself into something else, to go somewhere else. Cities are full of stories of sudden and inexplicable transformations
and resurrections – of people who have nothing suddenly accumulating massive amounts of wealth only to lose it overnight and then have it “resurrected” at a later time. These oscillations are embedded in a context where the horizons of a reasonably attainable future and the
capacity to imagine them have disappeared for many youth – now the region’s largest population group. They appear increasingly uncertain how to spatialize an assessment of their life chances – i.e., where will
they secure livelihood, where can they feel protected and looked after, where will they acquire the critical skills and capacities? This paper addresses some of the general dynamics whereby Lagos, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, and Freetown mark specific trajectories of a “speeding-up” of
urbanization – where temporalities, sectors, representations, and economies are intersected in ways that produce indiscernible fields of social collaboration and livelihood. In each of these cities, little can be taken for
granted, as their destructive capacity and the labor intensity of everyday survival amplifies a capacity for “getting by” and an achievement of “sustainability” that largely remains inexplicable. In cities where livelihood,
mobility, and opportunity are produced and enacted through the very agglomeration of different bodies marked and situated in diverse ways, the challenge is how permutations in the intersection of their given physical existence, their stories, networks, and inclinations can produce specific value and capacity. As such, it is difficult to ascertain in these cities just what social practices, alliances, and knowledge can be mobilized sufficient enough to produce outcomes conceptualized in
advance. Similarly, the rapidity through which impressions can be fixed in the popular imagination, unanticipated resourcefulness organized, and the dispositions of behavior transformed often doesn’t permit any certainty as to the identities of the ingredients or processes involved.

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Book Section

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology > Centre for Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP) [2003-2015]



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Date Deposited:

05 Oct 2015 11:18

Last Modified:

16 Dec 2016 17:18


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