African cities as sites

Seminar date: 
05 January 2011
12.30 - 13.30u
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Seminar room: 
Room 5B04 (fifth floor)

All African urban societies are in transition. There is not one African city that can claim to have adopted a stable figuration of the social and cultural forces that shape its historical form.  This statement often suffices to assume that African urban life is, by its very character, anytime and anywhere informed by an extraordinary degree of creativity. Since Karen Barber published her landmark article in 1987, this creativity of African cities was often identified with what is usually framed as popular culture. The emergence of a new popular culture that neither built on the former local, ethnic arts nor on the mere imitation of Western modernity was associated with the rising heterogeneity of the fast growing urban population. Composed of people from all parts of the colonies and later the post-colonial nation state, it fostered interactions of people with highly divergent social and cultural backgrounds. The emergence of a novel African bourgeoisie and, as its compliment, the urban masses of ordinary people that all had their own “traditional” culture, was seen as the main source of a vibrant and boundless cultural creativity. It touched on all spheres of life and on all genres of art: music, writing, fine arts and performing arts. Over the past two decades, urban popular culture has been celebrated as the site of creativity of contemporary Africa. Its attributes were the agency of the artists as the freedom of expression, the resistance to political domination as the subversion of post-colonial cultural dominance.


Additional speaker information: 

Till Förster holds the chair of social anthropology at the University of Basel, Switzerland. He is also the speaker of the Centre for African Studies Basel. He works on visual culture and on political transformations and governance in Africa. His regional specialisations are West and Central Africa, in particular Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon.