Join the Centre for Research in Economic Sociology and Innovation for an insightful online seminar with Professor Claire Mercer.
Professor Claire Mercer (London School of Economics) is a human geographer working at the intersection of human geography and African studies. Her early work developed a critique of the NGO-ization of development, and postcolonial approaches to civil society and diaspora. She is currently working on new research on peripheral urbanisation in African cities. She has conducted research in Tanzania, Cameroon and the UK. Claire’s current research explores the significance of property to middle class reproduction in suburban Dar es Salaam. It examines how self-build housing on the urban periphery has become central to what it means to be middle class in contemporary Tanzania. In these new neighbourhoods, the acquisition of land and the construction of houses and suburban landscapes have become vehicles for the accumulation of material and aesthetic assets, creating new spaces of inequality at the urban periphery. Claire is about to embark on a three-year ESRC-funded project examining how self-build housing generates the urban economy and neighbourhood change in Ghana and Tanzania.
In this paper I explore the role that landscape plays in mediating relations of social class. Landscapes are built, lived and imagined spaces shaped by historical, geographical and social processes in specific contexts. They are constantly under construction and struggled over. I analyse the ways in which material and imagined landscapes reproduce middle classness in suburban Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In contrast to much of the existing literature on social class and spatial exclusion, in which elite enclaves appear fixed in the landscape, the polycentric governance of urban land and planning in Dar es Salaam makes it very difficult for the middle classes to retreat into exclusive suburban enclaves. Insurgent house-building in the suburbs is almost impossible to police, which means that a far more fragmented landscape emerges as relatively low density, good quality residencies stand next to smaller houses on more densely arranged plots. This in-between position, of having built suburban landscapes of distinction yet being unable to protect them from infiltration by poorer urban residents, captures a defining characteristic and central contradiction at the heart of contemporary middle classness in Dar es Salaam.
This seminar is part of an open webinar series, hosted by the Centre for Research in Economic Sociology and Innovation.