Casting a long shadow: colonial categories, cultural identities, and cosmopolitan spaces in globalizing Africa

William Cunningham Bissell
2007 African Identities  
This article explores the continuing hold that colonial categories still exercise in contemporary constructions of African urbanism-even in the context of a city being profoundly transformed by globalizing forces and processes. Since the mid-1980s, urban plans and programmes have advocated conserving Mji Mkongwe, Zanzibar as cultural property-a historic 'asset' or national 'treasure'. Pressured by structural adjustment and external donors, the state has pursued a restoration strategy that
more » ... strategy that entails opening the city to new flows of capital, selling off its stock of properties and promoting a new tourist economy. Paradoxically, the reconfiguration of property as private has been made possible by asserting its collective origins, as buildings have been classified as the material expressions of particular cultural groups, constructed as the heritage of bounded and essentialized wholes: Arab, Indian, African. In this transnational and cosmopolitan urban milieu, past discourses of anthropological culture and classification have strikingly come to the fore, perversely fusing 'housing stock' to 'racial stock', architecture and archetype. Past and present combine in contradictory ways, as outmoded anthropological concepts and practices have been resurrected in development discourse, cropping up in the most unexpected (and problematic) ways.
doi:10.1080/14725840701403416 fatcat:6txrck57szbipfgqucwaksu2ta