Enclaving: Spatial detachment as an aesthetics of imagination in an urban sub-Saharan African context

Enclaving: Spatial detachment as an aesthetics of imagination in an urban sub-Saharan African context


Written by:

Morten Nielsen, Jason Sumich and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen

First Published:

08 Jun 2020, 11:17 am


Enclaving: Spatial detachment as an aesthetics of imagination in an urban sub-Saharan African context

Abstract: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0042098020916095#abstract


Cities have generally been thought of as a sort of social and cultural melting pot, one where various people, ideas, beliefs and ways of life give rise to something new alongside the reproduction of the already known. In that sense, contemporary cities are a fascinating combination of the iconic and the vapid. Very few would ever confuse the street markets of Lagos with those of Lancaster, or the Eiffel Tower with Big Ben. On the other hand, the repetitive ubiquity of the same few titans of global capitalism, McDonalds, H&M, Starbucks means main streets from Johannesburg to Beijing can be almost indistinguishable. It is this combination of the foreign and the familiar, the ways in which one can hope that the radically new will produce relatively predictable outcomes, as in excitement and opportunity, that has helped to fuel urbanisation across the globe.


Ironically though, now that over half the world`s population is urban, it appears that this delicate balance between the unique and the uniform is undergoing a decisive shift. Forms of detachment and segregation, be it economic, national, racial or a mixture, what we refer to as enclaving, are ever more obviously central to processes of urban development and even the ways in which we think of and understand cities. Enclaving basically refers to the unequal distribution of infrastructure and spatialised administration. Examples of enclaving abound, from Special Economic Zones, to the fortified towers of the superrich, but probably the best known and most common example would be the gated community, which is currently taking the cities of sub-Saharan Africa by storm. Gated communities may appear the same the world over. In fact, as they are normally based on a few models produced by a relatively small number of international firms; their uniformity is often a selling point. It is, however, also this uniformity that has drawn widespread condemnation. For many urban scholars, gated communities are the ultimate betrayal of the aforementioned idea of the city as a melting pot, instead epitomizing soulless capitalism, where the sterility, banality and ruthlessly exclusionary tendencies of neo-liberalism are rendered in concrete and faux Tudor features. Although many elements of this critique may be true, we want to understand how processes of enclaving are reshaping African cities and how this differs from place to place depending on local histories, power relationships and social structures. We argue that enclaving is an aesthetics of imagination, not the physical incarnation of capitalist exclusion, but a way of imagining what a city would be like that has travelled throughout the world and, despite taking place in very different societies, ties together otherwise distinct desires, aspirations and social practices.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0042098020916095