Urban Life-Worlds in Motion: In Africa and Beyond

Hans Peter Hahn


Although throughout the history of anthropology the ethnography of urban societies was never an important topic, investigations on cities in Africa contributed to the early theoretical development of urban studies in social sciences. As the ethnography of rural migrants in towns made clear, cultural diversity and creativity are foundational and permanent elements of urban cultures in Africa (and beyond). Currently, two new aspects complement these insights: 1) Different forms of mobility have received a new awareness through the concept of transnationalism. They are much more complex, including not only rural–urban migration, but also urban–urban migration, and migrations with a destination beyond the continent. 2) Urban life-worlds also include the appropriation of globally circulating images and lifestyles, which contribute substantially to the current cultural dynamics of cities in Africa. These two aspects are the reasons for the high complexity of urban contexts in Africa. Therefore, whether it is still appropriate to speak about the “locality” of these life-worlds has become questionable. At the same time, these new aspects explain the self-consciousness of members of urban cultures in Africa. They contribute to the expansive character of these societies and to the impression that cities in Africa host the most innovative and creative societies worldwide.

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