Urbanities Project: Entanglement, Mobility and Improvisation: Culture and Arts in Contemporary African Urbanism and its Hinterlands

In 2019, the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship embarked supranational on a five year project titled Entanglement, Mobility and Improvisation: Culture and Arts in Contemporary African Urbanism and its Hinterlands. The project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and includes collaboration with the University of Cape Town, the University of Ghana and Makerere University.

The project is expected to run for five years starting in January 2019 and concluding in December 2023. The project will focus on the mentoring of young scholars that will include PhD students, post-doctoral fellows and early career academics drawn from the four Universities involved in the project. It seeks to combine the models of post-graduate supervision, summer institutes and workshops - activities which will be spread across the four universities during the five year duration of the project.

Conceptually, the project seeks to move beyond the current scholarship on African cities that tends to focus on African cities as little islands that are separated from their hinterlands – the rural other. Working through a range of cultural formats and artistic genres, the project hopes to surface the defining features of these urban spaces and their rural hinterlands. The cities identified for this study are, Kampala, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Accra, Nairobi and Lagos. These cities share African roots, but are also distinctive, because of their shared colonial/apartheid histories, their multiplicity of old and invented languages, their innumerable waves of immigrants from their rural hinterlands but also some whose origins readily violate national boundaries, and who continue to bring labour, culture and new creative economies; and the sometimes tragic structures of oppression that these cities have undergone. The project aims to examine how looking at the cities from the perspectives of the rural and specifically through the mobility of people, ideas, cultural forms and arts between the cities and the rural spaces, we are able to witness the transformation of marginal and precarious lives into lives that exceed constraining structures emanating from the political and social hierarchies embedded in these cities.

Through in-depth case studies of each of these cities and their arts, our goal is to help the young participants in the project to grasp, both intellectually and viscerally, the intricate workings of urban spaces and their hinterlands in Africa. By examining music, literature, visual arts, festivals, leisure sites, and films, among others, participants will learn, through ethnographical explorations and the unique lens of individual artists, how African urban identities are recast in each city, particularly in the face of historical and contemporary flows of people, cultural capital and goods that move across borders that are often seen as inviolable.


The core members of the project are:

Professor James Ogude

Project leader - University of Pretoria

Dr Rebecca Fasselt

University of Pretoria

Dr Mpho Tshivhase

Univeristy of Pretoria 


Professor Christopher Ouma

University of Cape Town

Professor Sister Dominca Dipio

Makerere University

Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo

University of Ghana - Legon


Professor Francis Nyamnjoh

University of Cape Town

Dr Benge Okot

Makerere University

Dr Irene Appeaning Addo

Univeristy of Ghana - Legon 


Professor Eileen Julien

Indiana University Bloomington

Professor Grace Musila 

Univeristy of the Witwatersrand



- Author Kirsty Nepomuceno
Published by Kirsty Nepomuceno

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