LeidenASA seminar: The world in a sweetshop? Localising the Indian Ocean in Mombasa, Kenya

In their influential contribution to theorising the urban from Johannesburg, Mbembe & Nuttall (2004: 348) observe the continued tendency to “describe Africa as an object apart from the world”, and decry the systematic inattention to its “embeddedness in multiple elsewheres”. This is a stark contrast to the literature on the East African littoral, where city life is typically explained in terms of its entrenched connectivity to the Indian Ocean realm (Kresse 2012, Loimeier & Seesemann 2006). Rather than assuming African urban space as inherently connected or disconnected to the world beyond, this paper argues that conceptualisations of conjunction in and from the continent must be grounded in the imaginaries of city residents themselves. Drawing on examples of everyday eating practices in the Kenyan port of Mombasa, Zoë Goodman will outline the problematic notions of origin and spread that underpin much of the literature on Indian Ocean Africa, and assert the political imperative to view edible instantiations of littoral urbanism as ‘already local’ (Pennycook 2010).

Zoë Goodman is an urban anthropologist working in Mombasa, Kenya. She takes an ‘everyday’ approach to city living that aims to shift the narratives of ‘crisis’ and ‘development’ that continue to dominate the writing on African cities. Her research explores seemingly mundane manifestations of urbanity – such as Art Deco buildings, deep fried snacks and nostalgia – asking what these tell us about how Mombasans construct relations of proximity and distance to others in the city and beyond. The second area of her research considers the everyday consequences of the global ‘War on Terror’, of which the Kenyan coast has long been a key battleground. Rather than violence and state counterterrorism initiatives, she examines how imaginaries of terror shape how Mombasans design their homes and modify their religious rituals. To date, she has worked mostly with Mombasan Muslims of Gujarati origin who count generations of residence in East Africa. Bringing together these themes, her current book project is entitled Tales of the everyday city: Indian Ocean legacies and uncertain futures in Mombasa.

Zoë has a PhD in Social Anthropology (2018), and MA degrees in Social Anthropology (2011) and Anthropological Research Methods (2013), from SOAS, University of London.

Date, time and location

27 November 2019
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room 1A33