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Blog Entry #3

Written by Carla Cortês.

2019.01.16 | Middle Class Urbanism

Eight years ago, I promised not to engage in such a painful process as writing a dissertation. Although, in early 2018, an irresistible opportunity to be part of the Middle Class Urbanism project emerged as a rational path to continue with my previous research on urban representation and the right to city. In my master’s dissertation I argued that Mozambican colonial and modern built heritage was not as Portuguese as they might claim. Based in an analysis of photography of Brazilian modern architecture that figured the major publications in architecture I questioned the paradoxical appropriation of symbols of democratisation to portrait a colonial hegemony. Middle Class Urbanism emerges as a means to unveil native Mozambicans role in building the city.  

The brand-new journey in Anthropology is, perhaps, a logical way of combining different interests in architecture, urbanism, history, governance, policies and so on, and might be also the reason I have been so delighted in the past six months. 

Since the PhD experience began in the (very) quiet area of Aarhus, in particular Moesgaard (where the life ends by 3pm), life has been a flashback of previous engagements with academia. However, nothing would have anticipated the ethical issues involved in Anthropological studies and the sort of dynamics that the fieldwork bureaucracy uncovers. 

My research project is focused on the impacts of recent road infrastructure investments in the capital city of Maputo, namely Maputo Ring Road and Maputo-KaTembe Bridge. I am interested in observing to what extent the livelihoods of small farmers communities are affected, and also to what extent local communities’ rationalities are contributing (or might contribute) to Maputo’s urban planning. The current need to understand social interactions is challenging my familiar position of one interested in material observation of architecture and urbanism as an effect of previous social dynamics.

I am writing this entry while seated in my balcony in a guest house in the new residential area of Kileleswha, Nairobi. My position allows me to witness part of the urban dynamics and the built environment that mixes old and new patterns of land appropriation. I can’t help but thinking about Kenyans rationalities that ended up in the current urban life, as well as I think about the future of Maputo, its continuities and disruptions, forms of living and using the space, integrations and segregations, potential and vulnerabilities, … 

Ahead of me is a year of fieldwork that is about to start in the bordering areas of both road investments, and I am looking forward to learning as much as I fear my skills to deal with people might not be as good as with buildings. But I am sure the roads will lead me to a new understanding of what it means to be a citizen in a growing middle class city.