Compromising with Urban Modernity: Apartment Housing Experiences in an African Megacity

Authors: Allen Xiao*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Urban Geography, Africa, Social Geography
Keywords: Housing, Apartment, Modernity, Africa, Lagos
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 35
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Differing from the compound housing that commonly exists in African housing traditions, the multi-storied apartment housing was established in Gowon Estate as a modern project during the oil boom in Nigeria in the 1970s. However, with the retreat of the Nigerian and Lagos states in the period of structural adjustment programs and in the neoliberal era of housing privatization, the experiences of living in those apartments and in the neighborhood have to be adaptive and compromised accordingly. Based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork through living in this environment, this article elaborates on the changes of livelihood and their compromising practices and strategies, specifically in the aspects of the decline of infrastructure, the retreat of state, and the complication of sociability. This case study demonstrates that Gowon Estate was supposed to symbolize a kind of modernity of apartment housing, but gradually became a common place of livelihood in Lagos. Nevertheless, the form of apartment and the social dynamics inherited from state initiation still permeate the current mundane experience of residents. The existing literature on modernity in Africa has emphasized the African subjectivity to do with modernity, but I argue that the framing of “compromise” can contribute to the literature by articulating a paradoxical combination of what people want to do and have to do.

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