7th European conference on African studies – ECAS 7
Theme Urban Africa-Urban Africans: new rurality-urbanity encounters
29 June 2017-1st July 2017, University of Basel

PANEL L18: Cities, Public Spaces and Rejects: Encounters and Confrontations between Rurality and Urbanity
Sylvie Ayimpam, Emilie Guitard, Jacky Bouju

This panel will be devoted to issues related to reject, discards, rubbish, litter and scrapheaps in urban public spaces in Africa. It proposes to analyse these phenomena through the encounter between urbanity and rurality. It builds on an analysis of varying forms of conflicting uses and occupations of public spaces by private activities producing waste accumulation as well as scrapheaps.

In African cities, the various uses of public spaces offer the opportunity for an observation of the encounter/confrontation between urbanity and rurality. This panel proposes to question several aspects of this confrontation, starting from an analysis of varying forms of conflicting uses and occupations of public areas by messy private activities, waste accumulation, rubbish tips and scrapheaps proliferation. Here, the notion of “reject” encompasses that of “domestic waste”, “rubbish” and “sewage”, along with that of reusable items. The analysis of accumulation, discharge, transformation, recycling, and repurposing processes of rejects can shed light on unexpected political, social and environmental issues dovetailing at the heart of governance and ‘good cohabitation’ dynamics in African cities.

Since many decades a continuous rural exodus has been observed which drives significant migrant flows towards urban African centres. These new city dwellers display behaviours and space uses which generally correspond to their original rural habitus. This habitus is reinforced as they usually settle primarily in suburban neighbourhoods unequipped with basic urban infrastructures (sanitation, water and power conveyance, market planning, etc.). These new city dwellers indeed develop specific uses of inhabited urban public spaces which often contradict with legal requirements and longstanding urban-dwellers usages.

Some researchers have wondered whether current public space uses and the frequent conflicts that ensue from their confrontation in Africa, did not originate from discrepancies between the historical modes of space occupation and the urban morphology fostered by colonialism. Indeed, the historical context appears as a structuring factor insofar as the imposition of the colonial urban model has engendered public spaces disconnected from African urban “traditions” in a great number of African cities. The confrontation between urbanity and rurality is for instance illustrated by the honeycomb-type organisation of precolonial city yards or the topocentric structure of villages in rural areas. These precolonial historical neighbourhoods stand in deep contrast with the “grid-planned” wards arranged by colonisers and the present modernity.

Economic precarity and illiteracy also appear as major causes influencing behaviour in cities. Those who daily create their means of subsistence sometimes adopt behaviours labelled as rebellious to laws and indifferent to urbanity rules and good cohabitation. A great number of city users, be them very poor longstanding urban-dwellers or neo-urbanites of rural origin, survive daily through practicing multiple informal micro-activities in the urban public spaces whose organisation and use they are remodelling and restructuring according to their own convenience (small traders, craftsmen, repairers, transport operators, etc.). These public space uses by the poorest and/or neo-urbanites generally contradict with the initial functional purposes, notably related to vehicle and passer-by traffics as well as water circulation; for them, they are simultaneously loci of life, work, passing and exchanges but they also host messy activities and waste disposal.

We are keen to receive contributions on these topics, focusing more particularly on issues related to urban governance and the uses of public spaces along with incivilities they generate. What are the current modes of waste re-use developed by citizens for the sake of their survival? What do life and work on scrapheaps and public landfills reveal about the economic and symbolical underpinnings of citizens relations with rejects and wastes? How do discards and rubbish participate in the empirical boundary delimitation between “public” and “private” in the public spaces? What are the urban governance problems revealed by waste accumulation and associated incivilities? Through which practices do city dwellers offset these breakdowns and regulate these incivilities?

This L18 Panel “Cities, Public Spaces and Rejects” will be bilingual, French and English. It is situated in an interdisciplinary perspective and contributions from different fields of the social sciences (political science, sociology, economy, history, anthropology, geography, law) will be welcome. To send your contribution, please click on the link above and then on “propose a paper” down the page on the left-hand side.

NomadIT Conference Suite


Key-words: Rubbish, Waste, Discards, Rejects, Insalubrity, Public Space, Informal Sector, Recycling, Recovery, Recycling, Sanitation, Urban Governance, Practical Norms, Rural exodus, Urbanity, Incivilities