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Out Now: Nairobi Becoming

Published onFeb 12, 2024
Out Now: Nairobi Becoming
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About the Book

Echoing the edgy, disjunctive, ever-emergent city of Nairobi that it explores, Nairobi Becoming: Security, Uncertainty, Contingency strives to be several things-in-the-making. It is a historically and anthropologically minded examination of a shifting cityscape, an experimental, collaborative exercise in curated juxtaposition and assemblage, and an interdisciplinary, subjunctive urban ethnography. It brings together curated interventions by twenty-seven artists, scholars, and writers to trace Nairobi’s becoming. Methodologically experimental and multimodal, it seeks to balance an appreciation of Nairobi’s fragmented character while also recognizing its contingent coherency.

Nairobi Becoming curates an eclectic collection of different voices and interventions to evoke something of the city’s manifold guises and historicities – an urban mosaic of partial experiences as well as dawning possibilities for future becomings. Assembling scholarship, literature, creative non-fiction, and visual art, the contributions are arranged around particular themes, while resisting the urge to develop a singular coherent voice. Security – in its various guises – is the linking thread, the point of articulation that connects apparently disparate elements of Nairobi life, from sex work to roadbuilding, goat markets to funerals. Security is here an analytical operator: a concept that refracts the seemingly diverse modalities of life in Nairobi, and, with the related domains of uncertainty and contingency, brings the city’s dynamics of fragmentation and coherence to the surface in surprising ways.

If confronting Nairobi’s will to coherence amidst the strains of fragmentation is the empirical and analytical challenge of Nairobi Becoming, then it is through collaboration and juxtaposition, curation and contrast, and the messiness of assemblage, that this book chimes with the fraught multiplicities of a city-in-the-making. As such, this book is also an exploration of the inevitable tension that exists between curatorial intent and the possibility of allowing each contribution to stand for itself.

With contributions by: Francesco Colona, Tessa Diphoorn, Joshua Doble, Meghan E. Ference, Joost Fontein, Gado, Craig Halliday, Peris Jones, Billy Kahora, Wambui Kamiru Collymore, Beppe Karlsson, Doseline Kiguru, Wangui Kimari, Mark Lamont, Jean-Baptiste Lanne, Peter Lockwood, Gabrielle Lynch, Onyis Martin, Teresa Mbatia, Elias Mung’ora, Dennis Muraguri, James Muriuki, Al-Amin Mutunga, Annie Pfingst, Mario Schmidt, Constance Smith, and Naomi van Stapele.

About the Editors

Joost Fontein is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Johannesburg. Between 2014 and 2018 he was Director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa in Nairobi, on secondment from the University of Edinburgh. He published The Silence of Great Zimbabwe: Contested Landscapes and the Power of Heritage (UCL Press, 2006), Remaking Mutirikwi: Landscape, Water and Belonging (James Currey, 2015), and The Politics of the Dead in Zimbabwe, 2000–2020: Bones, Rumours and Spirits (James Currey, 2022). He is currently editor of Africa, the journal of the International Africa Institute.

Tessa Diphoorn is Associate Professor at the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University. Her research and teaching focuses on security, violence, and sovereignty in Kenya and South Africa. She published Twilight Policing: Private Security and Violence in Urban South Africa (University of California Press, 2016) and is co-editor of Security Blurs: The Politics of Plural Security Provision (Routledge, 2019) with Erella Grassiani.

Peter Lockwood is a Hallsworth Early Career Research Fellow in Political Economy at the University of Manchester. He is completing a book about the crisis of “wasted men” in central Kenya: the region’s landscape of masculine destitution, its roots in the collapse of peasant livelihoods and lost hopes for middle-class futures. His published work has appeared in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Social Analysis, and African Affairs.

Constance Smith is Lecturer and UKRI Future Leader Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. Her research explores landscapes of architecture, time, and urban change with a particular interest in participatory and practice-led research in collaboration with artists, communities, and urban practitioners. Her work has been widely published and has featured in several exhibitions, including at the National Museums of Kenya.

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