Institute of Social Anthropology, Seminar Room (Second Floor), Münsterplatz 19, 4051 Basel
Jennifer Hart: “Accra We Dey” - Precarious Histories, Creative Place - Making, and Reimagined Futures in Urban Ghana
Presentation by Jennifer Hart, Wayne State University, Detroit
The income gap in cities like Accra seems to have grown at an accelerated pace in the last 10 years, exacerbated by neoliberal economic policies, weak commodity markets, and currency redenomination. In response to this politics of extraversion, “southern urbanism” or urban theory from the global south has set its sights on the practices of the local, which are cast as forms of resilience and resistance in the face of global hegemonies that marginalize local residents and local knowledge. In particular, academics, policymakers, journalists, and planners often categorize the adaptations of poor urban residents in this context as manifestations of “informality” and target urban planning analysis and intervention on lower class neighborhoods, markets, transport systems, and other infrastructure. This association of informality with poverty, I argue, is an oversimplified characterization of Keith Hart’s original formulation, which obscures a much more complex urban politics in the city, rooted in a much longer history of urban residence in Accra. By exploring this history of urban politics, we can better understand the ways in which a wide range of Accra residents claim a “right to the city”, often bridging the gaps and blurring the boundaries between the socio-spatial inequalities inscribed in urban planning policy and practice. Accra residents describe these daily acts as “managing”. In contrast to phrases like “making do” or “getting by”, which are often associated with informal practices and imply survivalism, managing “highlights the ways in which participants engage in meaningful acts, strategically harnessing the resources at hand not only to accomplish objectives but also to construct satisfying lives.” (Schauert, 8) Acts of managing transcend the distinctions of socioeconomic class in the city, uniting Accra’s population in a process of grassroots place-making.
Jennifer Hart is an Associate Professor in the History Department, where she teaches courses in African History, World History, Digital History, History Communication, and historical methodologies.