Making the City: Agency, Urbanity and Urbanisation in Ordinary Cities
Third-party funded project
Project title Making the City: Agency, Urbanity and Urbanisation in Ordinary Cities
Principal Investigator(s) Förster, Till
Co-Investigator(s) Herz, Manuel
Project Members Oldenburg, Silke
Heer, Barbara
Nielsen, Lotte Knakkergaard
Larsen, Maren
Organisation / Research unit Departement Gesellschaftswissenschaften / Architectural, Urban, and Territorial Design (Herz),
Departement Gesellschaftswissenschaften / Visuelle und politische Ethnologie (Förster)
Project Website
Project start 01.08.2016
Probable end 30.09.2020
Status Completed

Current research on urbanisation in the Global South lingers between complaints about the ungovernability of mushrooming cities and the appraisal of urban inventiveness. Comparative approaches that consider and reflect both the agency of the actors and the city as a structured setting are still rare and almost non-existent in urban anthropology. This project aims at over-coming this impasse by comparatively looking at actors and their agency in four cities. It asks: How do urbanites make their cities as social, cultural and architectural spaces? The project adopts a comparative perspective. It asks how and in what contexts urbanites encounter or distance themselves from others; how they engage in the formation of social spaces across cityscapes; and how these cities are transformed by such practices. It presumes that the formation of urbanity is a dialectical process that is equally based on the agency of the actors; their perception and conception of urban space and their imagination of the so-cial, as well as on the structured social and material environment that is simultaneously shaped by them. At an empirical level, the project compares the formation of urbanity in four cities in the Global South: Goma, DR Congo; Cartagena de Indias, Colombia; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Yaoundé, Cameroon. Each case study identifies and juxtaposes settings that are more likely to produce distanciation and social dif-ference to processes that foster encounter and inclusion. Leisure and security are transversal themes that link all four case studies. At a practical level, the choice of ?eld sites is a selection of four cities, based on the pre-sumption that the formation of urbanity and urbanisation becomes more visible in an unbi-ased comparative perspective across different cultural and social backgrounds. Our choice also reflects feasibility of empirical research and the competences of the researchers. Long-term ?eld research is conducted by two senior scholars at the University of Basel, Profs. Till Förster and Manuel Herz, two postdoc researchers, Dr. des. Barbara Heer and Dr. Silke Oldenburg (partly funded by the SNSF), and two PhD students (funded by SNSF) conjointly with partners and MA students from Basel and our partner institutions. The ?ndings will con-tribute to an understanding of urbanity and urbanisation in these cities and serve as basis for further comparisons and analyses. At a general comparative level the project aims at elaborating a balanced understanding of urbanity and urbanisation and contributes to general debates in urban studies on how to frame the urban and its speci?c sociality. Final-ly, it will lead to a deeper theorization of ur-banity and the formation of urban space in general. The project is based on the interdiscipli-nary conceptual work in the ?eld by the senior scholars and the two postdoc researchers. It is a building block of the new Urban Studies pro-gram at the University of Basel. The three new chairs of the new program will become mem-bers of the advisory board and are expected to engage in the theoretical debates about the ?ndings of this project within the framework of an interdisciplinary research group. The project will be relevant to social scientists, architects, and urban planners as it gener-ates an analytical framework that goes beyond the current pre-occupation with the de?ciency of cities in the Global South and enables re-searchers to address questions of urban change from an empirical and comparative perspec-tive. Main partner institutions are the African Centre for Cities, Cape Town, and research partners in the respective countries

Keywords Urbanisation, Comparative Urbanism, Global South, Agency, Urbanity
Financed by Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
Follow-up project of 2190013 Corruption, Conflict and Cities in West and East Africa
2718736 Art/articulations: Art and the formation of Social Space in African Cities
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