Joint Research Theme

Living the City. Processes of Invention and Intervention in Africa

Cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America are undergoing rapid transformation while featuring the highest growth rates worldwide. To address this global trend, scholars call for a new approach to urban studies that examines cities from a broader and more comparative perspective, not only through the model of European and North American cities. This new approach should also pay more attention to the role individual, social and societal creativity plays in processes of urbanization instead of concentrating on expert-driven planning and intervention. Especially in rapidly growing cities with weaker administrative capacity for expert-driven interventions, invention and societal agency not only become more tangible but also more relevant.

A better understanding of these processes is urgently needed, especially in view of old and new threats and their consequences for Europe. Cities are almost always major destinations of migration, and African cities serve as the main hub for migration towards Europe. These trends may be reinforced by global climate change and associated natural and human-made disasters which will have a particularly high impact on Africa, also on cities due to the density of the population, infrastructure and the concentration of financial, economic and technological resources. Cities in Africa have to be made a safer place because they are not only the homes of millions of people, but also because they are the gateway for capital invested in the respective country and therefore have to offer a stable and safe environment. Social processes of innovation and transformation are and will become even more significant in the cities of the future around the world.

Our main research question thus addresses two issues:

  • What is the potential of fast-growing cities in Africa?
  • What can we learn from African cities?

Following this general research question, we will address three more specific comparative research questions:

  • How is the inventive potential of African cities best understood, conceptualized and theorized from an inter- and transdisciplinary perspective?
  • What can these insights contribute to a more refined analysis of urban life in general?
  • How can these understandings inform policies and interventions to work with – not against – the inventive potential of urban dwellers?


University of Basel
Centre for African Studies
Rheinsprung 21
CH-4051 Basel
Tel.: +41 (0)61 207 34 82