JWTC
JWTC Blog

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Afropolis Metabolis


Sharad Chari at JWTC

After Arjun Appadurai's reflections on the Geists and ghosts driving big finance, this afternoon's session revolved around the assets of the urban poor. Sharad Chari argues that subalternity can itself be an asset: when people "refuse to be ruined, while surrounded by processes of ruination," for example residents in Durban's South acting up against the toxic industries that pollute their livelihoods. Biopolitics are here turned into techniques of struggle and protest. But, one might ask through John and Jean Comaroff's discussion on the contemporary self, what if making an asset of ones own wastedness is not (only) a progressive tool as Chari suggests, but describes a dramatic new relationship in which people literally mine their own bodies as assets, or else brand themselves as waste or as waste worker and their space as waste land, as the Comaroffs described for the post-industrial American town of Youngstown? And how can we interrogate space itself as an asset - succinctly articulated by Ricardo Cardoso: "Can the subaltern produce space?"

Edgar Pieterse turned the question of assets of the urban poor into one of politics: sustainable city- making for the future. Crucial to this project, Pieterse argues, is a better understanding of everyday cityness in the global South, including the variegated sets of knowledge, experience, and capability of the urban poor. Pieterse suggests imagining cities in their metabolic flows. This means thinking the sociality of a city through both its human and non-human relations (i.e. understanding the life cycle of a bridge as part of social relations). It also entails stretching the understanding of urban infrastructures towards the various social, communicative, often provisional infrastructures that the urban poor build in the absence of functioning material infrastructures (de Boeck 2002, Simone 2004). In such visions of the city, rationalities of urban survival and urban politics extend beyond the cognitive to include the diversity of affective rationalities of everyday life.

Surprisingly under-discussed remained the question of uncertainty and risk. What assets do the urban poor create, use, or strive for in conditions where uncertainty is a permanent feature of urban life? And how can uncertainty become a resource itself to make things happen (Simone 2010)? This brings the assets of the urban poor close to the taste for uncertainty and speculation at Wall Street. We would then have to look at the assets of the speculators on Wall Street and the urban entrepreneurs who struggle for everyday survival in downtown Dakar or Luanda in one and the same laboratory of self creation in precarious times.

Christine Hentschel

Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICI), Berlin

1 comment:

Macaulay Ayobami said...

We are glad to be a part of the afropolis exhibition
our photograph was used to depict the growth of lagos
we hope it goes well :)
http://orbitimagery.blogspot.com

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