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Urban Encounters: Politicizing the Everyday in African Cities

Urban Encounters: Politicizing the Everyday in African Cities

Convened by Jon Schubert, Chloé Buire and Ruy Blanes

In International Conference Activisms in Africa, ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon, 11-13 January 2017.



African cities are nodes of encounters, a choreography of historical networks, transitory associations and unexpected alliances. At a time when cracks are showing in the hegemonic dominance of developmental regimes across the continent, this panel contends that digging into the messiness of everyday urban life might provide new keys to understand how alternative political subjectivities can emerge. However, despite the high visibility of overt political protest surrounding presidential mandates (Burkina Faso, Burundi), influence peddling (South Africa) or suppressed justice (Angola), we hold that it is by looking at the production of the political not in institutions but in the ‘timeless banality of daily life’ (Trouillot 2001) that we can understand how people’s actions and discourses can at the same time be subversive and participate in existing power structures. Rather than trumpeting grand narratives of a wave of ‘Arab Springs’ spreading through Sub-Saharan Africa, this panel is then interested in the interstitial spaces between domination and the cultivation of consent that can be carved in the materiality of everyday urban life. When the space for politics is circumscribed, what kind of spaces does the city offer for struggles over freedom and dignity? Could derelict urban landscapes and infrastructures constitute sites of resistance? When do acts as mundane as accessing clean water, caring for one’s health or walking a waste-invaded pavement become subversive? We invite papers (in English or Portuguese) exploring invisible repertoires of discourse and action anchored in the daily practices of city-dwellers.



Cláudio Fortuna . CEIC-UCAN

Com o referido tema, objectiva-se, fazer uma relação entre a forma precaria como as pessoas se apropriam do espaço no bairro Rocha Pinto e as soluções apresentadas no Plano Director de Luanda de 2015, de modo a perceber os instrumentos capazes de revelar valores urbanisticos e ambientais nas populaçoes do bairro, onde se verificam problemas de acesso, construções precarias “subrepostas” umas das outras, carências de serviços basicos e a degradação, do ambiente o nivel alto de deliquencia. Estes valores são consequência da actual estrutura urbana precaria do bairro. Para a pesquisa Socorremos-nos de instrumentos que são impregues na area de percepção da Antropologia urbana, nomeadamente: observaçao participante, questionários de respostas abertas e entrevistas abertas, que nos ajudem na busca de indicadores capazes de suportar as exigências, trazidas nas diversas linhas condutoras do Plano Director de Luanda de 2015. Uma vez conhecidos os instrumentos de pesquisa, selecionaremos três áreas deste bairro – Rocha Moagem, Rocha Padaria e Rocha Parque. As informações fornecidas através da analise urbanística do bairro Rocha Pinto, servirão de subsidios para projectos semilares, que contextualizarão a percepção do nível de pobreza, urbanidade e consequentemente a qualidade de vida daquele território de Luanda.


Laura Drivdal . University of Cape Town

While the political relations between politics citizens and states are continuously studies through analysing channels of participation (like political parties, ward systems or social movements), a growing body of literature suggest that more attention should be given to everyday politics and everyday practises of urban dwellers. Compared to visible politics like public protests and political negotiations, everyday politics and practises brings attention to how norms, discourses and identities, in less visible ways, inform urban politics. In this paper, I suggest two strategies for gaining insight into everyday politics within urban spaces: First, applying a social constructive analysis of the ideal organisational models promoted by residents within specific urban spaces. This implies that organisational models are understood as symbols rather than rational realities, reflecting contextual identities, norms and discourses. Secondly, giving attention to how rumour and gossip, as informal political practises, impact on political processes on the ground. These two strategies will be applied to an analysis of everyday politics within informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa. The analysis highlight how informal settlements are particularly potent political spaces, where everyday politics reflect the classical tension of stabilizing or disciplining norms confronting urban individualism.


Natalia Zawiejska . Jagiellonian University, Cracow

Religion weaves one of the most important social networks in Luanda, creating what Filip de Boeck (2005) and AbdouMaliq Simone (2010, 2011) call the invisible infrastructure of the city. That means that within the religious universe the city slips out the ideological – conceived space (Lefebvre 1991) turning into religiously generated lived space. This process is in turn strongly connected with religiously molded articulations of citizenship (Fumanti 2010) challenging its normative and conventional understanding within the nation state.  However this religious mode is not disjunctive from state politics and imposed power relations. Especially in Angola, where churches are simultaneously collaborating and questioning or reworking the state politics. In this paper I would like to analyze spatially rooted religious practices of two different evangelical and Pentecostal churches: the Angolan Assembly of God and the Bom Deus Church that question and interfere with political and public discourses on ethnicity, class and gender in Luanda. Additionally I would like to comment on the transnational interconnectivity of Luanda based churches that is the source of new cosmopolitan imaginations including attitudes of social activism within religiously structured universe.


Dina El-Sharnouby . Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Society, Depratment of Political Science, Freie Universities Berlin .

This paper will ask what is the meaning of the revolution to revolutionary youth? In other words, what political project did young people aim for and imagine with the wake of the revolutionary event? Using the lens of historical time in line with Reinhart Koselleck , the Egyptian revolution will be theorized from youth’s perspective in light of the political project they aimed for and imagined through situating them at this particular historical juncture. It is especially since 2013 and the return of the repressive military regime to power, that scholars have been critical of youth’s political participation and forms of resistance as having failed to come to power or propose an alternative to the old regime. Drawing on the form of organization at Tahrir square and beyond in which the revolution did not have a leader, was non-ideological, and inclusive to men and women, scholars have been critical to the possibility of transformation from revolutionary youth accusing them of their incapability to form a unity strong enough to contest the old political forces. Arguing against that, this paper will debate youth’s political project while problematizing the notion of leaderless and non-ideological forms of organization arguing that youth’s political participation was not non-ideological but rather post-ideological, not imagining change beyond the state. It in light of this that a new youth political subjectivity was formed that imagines and practices change differently from the old mode of doing politics.


Ruy Llera Blanes . INCIPIT

In this paper I propose to elaborate a reflection on spaces of political contention in the urban space, taking as point of departure the iconic Largo 1º de Maio in Luanda, the historical site of proclamation of Angolan independence in 1975 which has ‘witnessed’ several attempts of public demonstration and contestation since 2011. I will depart from Foucault’s famous concept of heterotopia and engage in an understanding of such urban landmarks as ‘ambivalent systems’ that incorporate both dogma and deviation.