The Postcolonial City
Colonialism was an experiment in physical and ideological domination that left behind strong social, cultural, economic and spatial legacies. This course explores those legacies in cities that are paradigms of the colonial encounter, via: a) population and resource flows, b) the ways urbanites construct selves vis-a-vis a geographically and temporally imagined modernity, and according to modern notions of gender, race, and nation, and c) the shared challenges postcolonial subjects face to access, survive and succeed in the city. A postcolonial lens illuminates many of the most prominent divides that structure contemporary urban space and social life as well as the connections that linger in global trade and migration patterns. This course goes beyond common global North/South distinctions to study how cities like Lagos and London are postcolonial cities. Students gain an understanding of how the colonial experiment reflects or anticipates the distribution of power and opportunity in and across these cities today.
Visuality in Africa
The image holds a special place in the social imaginary, and has a long and polemical history of “illuminating” the “dark continent” for the external gaze. This course examines theoretical and methodological approaches to visual analysis and its application in Africa. We emphasize how the visual makes sense of the social world, and its use in domination, interpretation and self-expression. While examining the politics of representation as a general framing device, we focus on visual representations of Africa/Africans by others, and by Africans of themselves and their continent. This includes colonial and missionary imagery, advertising aimed at Africans and which has used African imagery to sell its products, Hollywood depictions, Black nationalist propaganda, Rastafari and pan-African imagery, “famine porn,” various expressions of African self-portraiture in pre-colonial through neoliberal times, and the visual in the ethnographic imagination.
Cities are the locus of modern life, and provide the core terrain on which all kinds of human interaction – social, cultural, political, and economic – occur. This is contested terrain, and the geography of a city and its built environment reveal a history of social hierarchies and distributions of power and wealth. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and urban growth is occurring fastest in cities on the global “periphery,” where classic models of urban planning poorly reflect reality, and governance structures and institutions face formidable constraints to realizing development initiatives. Novel challenges face urban actors, such as the casualization of labor, unprecedented inequalities, mass migrations, infrastructural strain, violence and environmental degradation. This course is about the political economy of cities in these contexts, and draws on scholarly debates to understand how opportunities and constraints align with social hierarchies and reflect distributions of power and wealth. We will use these insights to analyze, construct, and critique urban development interventions.
This course explores racial capitalism as a theoretical concept and lived experience, with particular attention to the black experience. Racial capitalism organizes systems of economic domination according to racial difference, effectively collapsing the categories of race and class. For people of African descent, colonialism and slavery were the “original sins” of racial capitalism, and we examine both these origins and the ways that racial capitalism perpetuates and mutates around the world today. We ask what factors lead to shared global experiences of economic exploitation and exclusion, and what is unique to particular locales. We investigate the historical legacies of perceived racial difference in different countries or regions, and how it interacts with other axes of identity such as gender, ethnicity, color, and nation.
The Postcolonial City