Adaptability, Food Security, Risk, and the Right to the City in Sub-Saharan Africa: Towards Sustainable Livelihoods and Green Infrastructure

Key Research Concepts

Basic Assumptions and Objectives

AfriCity explores the causes and effects of environmental change and resource use in Sub-Saharan African cities. The project considers rapid social and economic transformation processes and their external and internal drivers, and assesses the barriers for potentials of social adaptability in the context of inequity, risk, and resourcefulness.

The project's overall objectives are

AfriCity links a strong research component, with extensive field studies, with an elaborated teaching and training module and also engages in consultancy and technology development and implementation.

AfriCity Research Framework (c) Krüger, Titz, Drescher, Shackleton

AfriCity Research Framework (c) F. Krüger, A. Drescher, A. Titz, C. Shackleton 2016/17 [9]

Routines, Ruptures, and Agency in Cities

Citizens and other stakeholders form permanent or temporary, fluid collectives, each defined by a set of mutual interests, shared values, or similar experiences of power or disadvantages. Interests are brought forward against other, competing ideas and strategies. Such contestations are often becoming part of routines in everyday urban life. The city becomes an arena of mediation, negotiation, and reconfiguring of urban ordering, of urban livelihoods and food security, of access to shaping urban environments and lifeworlds. This is where we start.
The projects looks into these processes in four cities in Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa. It also includes an innovative teaching component, with short term stays for Master students at the partnering universities abroad.

Core Research Concepts

The project is wary of conventional notions of ‘resilience’. It is embedded in a framework of three major conceptual approaches:

From ‘resilience’ to ‘resourcefulness’ - Despite the current popularity of the resilience approach, there is an increasing critique of the concept as “the paradigm shift from vulnerability to strength” [1] is still largely based on definitions by external agencies and experts. We prefer to talk of ‘resourcefulness’ [2] which focuses more on creativity and capabilities of people and is a less system-oriented approach.

From ‘living in the city’ to the ‘right to the city’ - The recently revived ‘right to the city’ and ‘just city’ debates stress the formulation and cultivation of (political) justice amongst urban citizens and the inclusion of spatial dynamics that ‘make’ the city (cf. [3], [4], [5]). There is a mismatch between an increasing demand for a change of existing orders, and dwindling opportunities to actually achieve these changes [6]. The production of distinctive and contextually dependent formations of the right to the city in Sub-Saharan Africa [7] have not yet been sufficiently taken into account.

From the ‘distribution of goods and services’ to the ‘poetics of (green) urban infrastructure’ - The role of green infrastructure (GI) in contributing to urban sustainability and livelihoods parallels the paradigm shifts embodied in ecosystem services thinking and the increasing acceptance of agriculture as an urban land use. As with ‘resilience’, GI concepts still largely stem from functionalistic approaches. But infrastructures also exist as forms separate from their purely technical functioning. They need to be analysed as concrete semiotic and aesthetic vehicles oriented to addressees and store within them forms of desire, deliver moral behaviour and are sets of social practices ([8]: 329, 336). (Green) infrastructure gives meaning to urban lifeworlds.

References: [1] Almedom, A., Tumwine, J. 2008: Resilience to Disasters: A Paradigm Shift from Vulnerability to Strength. African Health Sciences 208 (8/S): 1-4 - [2] MacKinnon, D., Derickson, K.D. 2013: From resilience to resourecfulness: A critique of resilience policy and activism. Progress in Human Geography 37(2): 253-270 - [3] Lefebvre, H. 1968: Le droit à la ville. Paris. - [4] Harvey, D., Potter, C. 2009: The Right to the Just City. In: Marcuse, P, Connolly, J., Novy, J., Olivo, I., Potter, C., Steil, J. (eds.): Searching for the Just City. Abingdon, New York: 40-51 - [5] Lees, L. 2012: Review of Marcuse, P. et al. 2009: Searching for the Just City. Progress in Human Geography 36(4): 553-554 - [6] Marcuse, P. 2009: Postscript – Beyond the Just City to the Right to the City. In: Marcuse, P, Connolly, J., Novy, J., Olivo, I., Potter, C., Steil, J. (eds.): Searching for the Just City. Abingdon, New York: 240-254 - [7] Robinson, J. 2016: Thinking cities through elsewhere: Comparative tactics for a more global urban studies. Progress in Human Geography, 40 (1): 3-29 - [8] Larkin, B. 2013: The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure. Annual Review of Anthropology (42): 327-343 - [9] For a more detailed explanation of the illustration cf. project proposal and various publications by the authors; on the concept of arena cf. Bierschenk. T. 1988: Development Projects as Arenas of Negotiation for Strategic Groups. Sociologia Ruralis, 28: 146–160; on the concept of riskscapes cf. Müller-Mahn, D. (ed.) 2013: The Spatial Dimension of Risk. How geography shapes the emergence of riskscapes. The Earthscan Risk in Society series 27, London.