Paul Jenkins: 'Understanding urbanisation, urbanism and urbanity in African cities'

Human settlement in cities of the South need different approaches to those initially developed in rapid urbanisation in the North from the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries, however our concepts of the good 'urban' are deeply influenced by this historically and geographically distinct experience. In addition our professional approaches embed these concepts (generally with a high degree of disciplinary exclusivity in understanding), albeit with at least half a century of more recent 'development discourse' overlay and adjustment. Whether such concepts, disciplinary approaches and/or professional praxis are relevant would appear to be significantly challenged by the widespread and increasing 'non-conforming reality' of cities of the South.

This is perhaps no more clear than in emerging urban areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, the last global macro-region to enter the rapid urbanisation process. In this context, weak states and high levels of urban poverty (and therefore limited private sector engagement) lead to the vast majority of such fast expanding urban areas being developed, not according to pre-defined developmentalist approaches which are overwhelmed by the reality, but by (mostly poor) urban residents, according to their socio-cultural agency, albeit constrained by political economic structures. This has led to a prevalent negative view of such emerging urbanism, labelling this as ruralisation, or defective/pathological forms of urbanity.

Going beyond these superficial understandings arguably needs truly inter-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary research to better understand the reality of such urban areas and those who live and work within these -- rather as early urban researchers in the North engaged in inductive approaches derived from empirical understanding. The dominance of disciplinary approaches, with some multi-disciplinary discussion, (both usually deductively based on prior values) is not enough. What is needed is inductive inter-disciplinarity where different disciplines surpass their disciplinary boundaries and merge their methods as well as findings -- and indeed forms of trans-disciplinarity where different disciplines challenge their disciplinary boundaries through the whole research process. However, the institutionalisation of knowledge, through disciplinary-based research, in professional bodies and government departments militates against such openness.

This lecture will explore the need for, difficulties in implementing, and some of the findings from a major research programme focusing on an in-depth case study with longitudinal elements undertaken 2009-13 in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, designed as an inductive study vis-à-vis emerging urbanism in Sub-Saharan Africa. It will focus on how new concept definition based on empirical inter-disciplinary research needs to be the basis for such an improved understanding of cities of the South.

About the speaker

Paul Jenkins is currently Professor for Architecture Research at the Edinburgh School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture (University of Edinburgh) and Professor of Human Settlements at the School of the Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University. He is also a Visiting Professor at Eduardo Mondlane University, Maputo; University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; and the University of Sao Paulo.

More than half years of his career has been based in Central and Southern Africa (Malawi, Botswana, South Africa, Angola, and especially Mozambique) and since 1999 he has also been involved in research linked to Brazil. Paul has published widely on Sub-Saharan African urban issues, as well as a series of more globally focused books, including Architecture, Participation and Society (Routledge 2010); Housing and Planning in the Rapidly Urbanising World (Routledge 2006); "Place identity, participation and planning (Routledge 2004); Urban development and civil society: the role of communities in sustainable cities (Earthscan 2001). He is currently working on a new book for Routledge titled Order and disorder in urban space and form. His on-going investigations focus on the nature of knowledge and the role of general socio-cultural values in urban development, challenging elitist and normative conceptions of modernity. His most recent research in the African region has been the international, multi-disciplinary programme entitled "Home space in the African city" (2009-12 -- see These issues are the basis for this lecture concerning what form of knowledge is needed to work with urban issues in the South today.