Researching sensitive topics in African cities : reflections on alcohol research in Cape Town
Recent calls for developing theory from the South have shaped debates around development and cities in Africa. Scholars have developed key insights into nature-society relations based in African context- indeed, seminal political ecological ideas were based on the experience of soil erosion in Kenya. While urban political ecology (UPE) provides a range of potential theoretical tools to understand the complex geographies of the contemporary African city, there has been less interest in developing political ecological theory from African cities. An urban political ecology of African cities necessarily needs to be viewed as in-the-making, and there is some evidence of such efforts, however, existing works have primarily applied ideas that have been applied in-and-through cities of the global North (e.g. Debanne and Keil 2004; Loftus 2006; Gandy 2006; Myers 2008). In this paper, we explore the potential for urban political ecology to engage with emerging theoretical considerations in African urbanism, including informalities, mobilities, poverty and post-colonial/post-apartheid geographies as well as other constructs that could be related to the ecology and materiality of the city, for instance: radical incrementalism and recursive political empowerment (Pieterse, 2008), ‘the city yet to come’ and ‘emergent forms of social collaboration’ (Simone, 2004), performative citizenship, and quiet encroachment practices (Bayat, 1997). From this, we seek to explore the possibilities of developing a political ecology research agenda that takes the African city as a valid point of departure for empirical studies, but also for constructing theory.
Lawhon, M.; Herrick, C.; Daya, S. Researching sensitive topics in African cities : reflections on alcohol research in Cape Town. Presented at Royal Geographical Society and Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG) annual international conference. (2012)