Technological Artefacts in African Urban Settings

Technology has become part and parcel of life in Africa. Africans are nearly as dependent on airplanes, automobiles, trains and ships as others in the world for their transportation needs. A growing number of Africans relies on modern medicine and its machines for diagnosis, treatment and healing. Many Africans in the formal sector of the economy owe their employment to the existence of industrial plants and professions requiring skills in the use of machines. Even such areas as agriculture, where subsistence level requirements do not appear to demand considerable technical skills, have been taken over by an increasing use of machines and techniques. One of the most remarkable developments in the relationship between Africans and technology however is the extent to which the confines of private life have been invaded by technology from piped water, through electricity all the way up to such household appliances as gas and electric cookers, television sets, phones, computers and digital cameras. Put differently, technology pervades everyday life in Africa.
Proposals are invited for doctoral projects inquiring into the role of technological artefacts in the organization and management of everyday life in African urban settings. Technological artefacts are understood as material goods issuing from production contexts informed by modern science and lifestyles with an increasing bearing on everyday life in African urban settings. Household appliances and automobiles, in particular, have become central to the possibility of urbanism in Africa with consequences on processes of social differentiation and social change. The proposals should, therefore, examine the extent to which technological artefacts pervade urban life in Africa and the theoretical and methodological challenges which this poses to the possibility of sociological descriptions of the ensuing settings. Of particular interest is the conceptualization of African urban settings as sites of technological immanence that engender uncertainty with regard to social structure, social roles, institutional competence and the general distribution of the stock of knowledge. Moreover, the immanence of technology should be understood as a methodological injunction to engage with the challenging task of making sense of social settings that resist description on the basis of traditional sociological terminology and seem to revel in causal indeterminacy as to their conditions of emergence, development and permanence. The expectation is to yield analytical insights towards a deeper understanding of the structures of everyday life in Africa. The empirical focus on household appliances and automobiles aims specifically at engaging structures of everyday life at the points where they constrain, and are constrained by, individual and collective agency.
Particularly welcome are sociological proposals which address the following set of questions:

  • What is the extent of the presence of technological artefacts in the lives of urban dwellers?
  • How do urban dwellers deal with these artefacts? In which ways do the lives of urban acquire new meanings due to the presence of technological artefacts?
  • What is the challenge of ensuring the functionality of technological artefacts and what implications follow thereof