Concrete Urban Life: Cementing the West African urban Corridor from Abidjan to Lagos

Authors: Armelle Choplin*, University of Geneva
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Africa, Social Geography
Keywords: urbanisation, urbanism, construction, concrete, cement, everyday practices, Africa
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In a context of « planetary urbanisation » (Brenner, Schmid, 2016), this paper sheds light on what, concretely, makes up the urban. It proposes to highlight the “urbanisation from below” process through the lens of cement and concrete, along the West African urban corridor. Linking Abidjan, Accra, Lomé, Cotonou, and Lagos, this corridor is the Africa’s largest urban metropolis under construction: over 30 million people live, travel, consume and build (with concrete).
By tracing out the material, political and social lives of concrete, the paper aims (1) to understand the social uses and symbols materialized by concrete for the inhabitants, becoming house-builders who claim a right to cement as a first step towards a right to the city (Gastrow 2017) 2) to decipher the transformations caused by this cementification process, especially in the new peripheral urban spaces (Mercer 2020) and (3) to analyse concrete as a piece of popular economy designing an incremental city and becoming part of makeshift lives (Pieterse, Simone, 2017)
Drawing from extensive fieldwork conducted between 2016 and 2018, the paper adopts a “follow-the-thing,” multi-scale approach, documenting the itineraries of cement bags from the producing plants to the construction sites and the actors involved in the cement chain, especially bricklayers and ordinary city dwellers (Körling, 2020).
Finally, this paper tries to contribute to the debate on the production of the urban in West Africa and, more broadly, rises crucial issues on sustainability and urban futures that goes beyond the North/south divide.

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