Urbanization and African Cultures

By Lewinson, Anne S. | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Urbanization and African Cultures


Lewinson, Anne S., The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Urbanization and African Cultures. Edited by Toyin Falola and Steven J. SaIm. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2005. Pp. 464; 58 illustrations. $45.00 paper.

Toyin Falola and Steven Salm's substantial volume resulted from a conference on "African Urban Spaces: History and Culture" held at the University of Texas-Austin in spring 2003. The articles analyze African cities from the perspectives of geography, history, and the arts; readers seeking discussions of urban policies, development concerns, economic issues, or postcolonial political tensions will find little information on those lines in this volume. While the contributions range across the continent, anglophone and western Africa predominate. Some 11 of 27 articles examine Nigerian case studies alone, while only 8 articles focus completely on examples from francophone or lusophone countries, and all of those articles discuss cases from western Africa.

These limits, however, simply reflect the emphases of the conference from which the volume sprang; as a whole, the book explores a thought-provoking range of topics in a variety of settings. An introductory section includes two summary essays, one by FaIoIa and one by Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch. Falola's introductory chapter brings out common themes, such as that all the articles explore dynamic external-local encounters, e.g., European colonialism, intra-African migrations, the contemporary "World Music" scene, or literary representations in European languages. By highlighting how the case studies reveal the ingenuity and agency of African city dwellers in creating cultural or historical productions, FaIoIa sets a tone of Afro-optimism and urban optimism that is often sorely absent today. Coquery-Vidrovitch's introductory essay traces the history of African urbanism; she also counters urban pessimism by arguing that African cities, similar to all urban areas, are centers where migrants adapt to dominant institutions yet also innovate and create syncretic socioculturel practices and institutions. These two essays provide a helpful frame for the case studies that follow.

The editors separate the case studies into three sections: literature (Nigerian), historical studies, and a catch-all category of "popular cultures" that includes everything from music to urban speech to "reading" a culturally laden street corner. Within these three sections, several chapters address urban-rural interconnections in ways that exemplify the overlapping of various domains within the space of the city. Gregory Maddox's article, for example, analyzes how the class-based social worlds of Dar es Salaam, the economic constraints of structural adjustment, and a nationalist agenda of "domesticating" ethnic identities came together to create a Gogo cultural day at the national museum, as well as other events where rural people perform their ethnicity for outsiders. …

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