Seeking the Good City and the Good Citizen: Colonial and Post-Colonial Governmentality and Urban Planning in Africa

Researcher: Andrew Byerley
Project established in 2010.

Sixty or so years ago – at a time when modernization theory and its material manifestations were ascendant – achieving urban order and disciplined solidarity was to be approached by the imposition of the (Master) Plan. Social engineering and planning at the scale of the total city under the guidance of elite – even God-like – professionals would beget the Good City, the Good Citizen and, in the Colonial African context, also the tractable and productive African Subject.

These heady times of Planning with a capital P, it seems fair to state, have receded into the past, although not without both a lingering and seemingly swelling undercurrent of nostalgic fascination and real concern over the arrested project of the Good City. However, recent academic commentary has resurrected and reposed the question deriving from, and formulated against, the paradox of (urban) modernity: i.e. what is the potential for marshalling solidarity and social cohesion at a time of intensifying social fluidity marked by multiple and fractured de- and re-territorializations? This important questionscape is especially germane at a time when the Good Citizen is increasingly called upon to fashion him/herself and where aspirations of the Good City have been eroded by unfettered capitalism, the dissipation of the idea of the city as a delineated entity, and by spatial gating strategies by and for urban elites.

This research project more broadly focuses on how modern projects of power and knowledge - colonial and post-colonial - have discursively and non-discursively defined, targeted and instrumentally acted on African urban spaces, African bodies and social formations in the service of more or less coherent goals (political order, spatial control, the will to improve, 'development', capitalist accumulation) and how these governmental interventions have been inculcated, resisted, hybridized or disregarded. The more specific focus is on the post-colonial trajectories of urban 'remnants' of post-WWII modernist urban planning. I proceed both from arguments that colonial planning was critical in circumscribing the present-day capacities of African cities and from the South African artist Rodney Place's notion of colonial urban spaces as 'inherited machines - up-for-grabs territorial frames now waiting for waves of occupation' (2006: 323). Three such 'inherited machines' from different colonial contexts are in focus: the Walukuba Housing Estate in Jinja, Uganda (built 1948-1960), now undergoing privatization, the Kuisebmond Municipal Compound in Walvis Bay, Namibia (built 1958-1960), now undergoing a process of 'museumization', and Leonard Thornton-White’s 1948 Nairobi Master Plan. My empirical, theoretical and methodological interest in these examples centres on how the analysis of these 'inherited machines' as they are structured and fought over today can illuminate both the legacy of the colonial era for the present day capacities of African cities and current urban governmental rationalities and modalities of power.

colonial planning
governmental intervention
social cohesion
the good citizen
the good city
urban planning
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