Rachel Lee and Diane Barbé presented the Simulizi Mijini project at a conference in Edinburg, 21-22 April 2016. It was organised by the Centre for African Studies and involved international scholars to discuss and debate on questions of neo-colonialism, soft power, privilege, orientalism, developmentalism, and global studies in the fields of arts, politics, media theory, urbanism, etc.
‘Decolonizing the Academy’ is a convergence of critical and creative scholarship, theory, conversation, and empirical research committed to questioning and undoing the foundations of inequality in Africa and African Studies. Hosted by the University of Edinburgh Centre of African Studies and the Global Development Academy, this international conference calls for a collective examination of how knowledge and power are defined, distributed, and denied through the Academy, broadly defined.
Here is a link to the full programme of the conference.
Here is a link to the audio recording of the presentation: 160421_decolonizing_audio
This presentation document the initial phase of a transdisciplinary exchange between students, researchers, artists and writers from Germany and Tanzania, exploring the topic of urban heritage in Berlin and Dar es Salaam. The academic aspect of this project is based on a collaborative research which regards built environments as both registers and generators of human creativity, social relations and power dynamics. In the cities of Dar and Berlin, we investigate the complexity and richness of urban heritage through the eyes, memories, practices and rituals of city-dwellers themselves. On the one hand, a lack of regulation is endangering the integrity of the built environment in Dar; the overwriting of colonial and postcolonial legacies through swift redevelopments means that shared territories and local identities are being lost at a fast pace. On the other hand, Berlin’s urban fabric is becoming increasingly historicised and institutionalised, as the post-Cold War urban laboratory has given way to a more strictly controlled environment. The formalist constraints of conservative conservation bracket the discourse and conceptualisation of what is to be cultivated from the city’s heritage. In both cases, a wide-reaching heritage debate ‘from below’ is acutely needed.
Throughout the month of March 2016, together with local activists, historians and heritage experts, a team of students and researchers from the TU Berlin and Ardhi university will conduct field-work in Dar, while the reverse process will occur in August 2016 in Berlin. The students come from the fields of architecture, urban design, town and regional planning, and landscape architecture. The scope, contents and tools for the research are being developed collaboratively. Grounded in a rights-based approach to urbanism, the program has the following objectives:
- to provide a platform for communities to participate in the (re)definition of heritage, with a series of storytelling evenings, memory walks and informal interviews
- to record and represent tangible and intangible aspects of heritage, by collaborating with local experts and residents to create digital maps and archives of cultural assets as defined in the first step
- to ensure the durability of this program with the creation of an online forum and smartphone/ tablet app, whose maintenance and utilisation will be taught through workshops with local communities
By presenting our academic findings and the maps produced, we will critically examine the possible tools, outcomes and prospects of representing urban heritage ‘from below’. This research is undertaken with the open-ended supposition that currently, urban heritage as it is defined in academic and political agendas in both Dar and Berlin must be realigned with the social utilities, emotional attachments and cultural identities revealed by city-dwellers. On a discursive level, existing taxonomies such as ‘African’, ‘Indian’ or ‘Arab’, ‘colonial’ or ‘historic’ will be deconstructed and replaced by more inclusive indexes that better reflect the urban society of Dar. By documenting and presenting our research process and findings, we will be able to assess if this approach can cater to the need for international comparativism committed to undoing the foundations of inequality in urban studies, particularly related to questions of heritage in African cities.