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Workshop on Historical and scalar dimensions of contemporary mobility practices in urban Africa

November 2, 2022 @ 8:00 am - November 4, 2022 @ 5:00 pm

CFP:  Mobility Histories for Mobile Urban Futures:  Planning “African” Mobility Systems


Workshop on Historical and scalar dimensions of contemporary mobility practices in urban Africa, November 2-4, 2022, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, SA


Submission Deadline:  August 15, 2022

Panel convener:  Jennifer Hart (jennifer.hart4@wayne.edu)


Today governments, planners, and development experts across the continent are looking to “total systems” and universal models like bus rapid transit to solve the mobility challenges of rapidly growing cities.  These models, which dominate planning theory and practice, are intended to advance sustainable and accessible models of public transit that increase access and improve traffic congestion for urban residents.  Drawing on theories and principles of sustainable development and transport planning, systems like BRT create a vision of modern mobility infrastructure that is decontextualized in its universalization.  These models assume, in other words, that all mobility cultures are the same and that urban mobility is defined by a set of core principles that transcend social, economic, and cultural difference. 


Drawing on a growing body of scholarship on African automobility that has emerged over the last ten years, this panel explores what grassroots models of urban mobility might look like in cities across the African continent.  As this scholarship has made increasingly clear, mobility in African cities is deeply rooted in local understandings of space and exchange that have informed the emergence of unique forms of sociality and urbanity.  One-size-fits-all models that grow out of the theories and experiences of industrialized cities in Europe and America are unlikely to capture the dynamism of African urban mobility.  Theories and models that ignore or fail to account for African experiences in their formation cast African urban mobility as an outlier.  When “universal” models do not work, African urban residents and leaders are cast as “failures” – a rhetoric that reproduces colonial/imperial rhetoric and fails to grapple with the real challenges that shape urban mobility in Africa and elsewhere.   


Inspired in part by widespread calls for “theory from the South”, this panel seeks to push the theory and practice of urban mobility.  It challenges divides between scholarship and practice by bringing scholarship from fields like history, anthropology, sociology, and geography into conversation with technocratic fields of urban planning, engineering, development, design, and policy.   We call for papers that use emerging mobility scholarship and ethnographic/historical research to propose new grassroots visions of urban development rooted in the unique mobility histories and cultures of particular African cities.  Rather than being seen as outliers or exceptions, how might these indigenous forms of urban mobility help us rethink our assumptions about urban infrastructural planning and development in Africa and beyond?  How can we apply historical and ethnographic research to envision more just urban futures?  What might we gain by thinking from the streets of African cities rather than at them?  How can we advance these conversations to help support communities in advancing local visions of development? 




Participants might include historians, anthropologists, geographers, urban planners, transport planners, development experts, public health officials, policy experts, etc.  Panel participants will discuss possible models for grassroots transport development at any stage of conceptualization, design, or implementation.

Please submit 500-word abstracts and a short bio to jennifer.hart4@wayne.edu by August 15, 2022.


November 2, 2022 @ 8:00 am
November 4, 2022 @ 5:00 pm
Event Category:


University of the Witwatersrand
1 Jan Smuts Ave
Johannesburg, Gauteng 2000 South Africa
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