Open Access Journal

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Meanings of Self-Building: Incrementality, Emplacement, and Erasure in Dar es Salaam’s Traditional Swahili Neighborhoods

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Abstract:  Self-building is the prevalent mode of urban production in rapidly urbanizing African cities. National and international policy frameworks, as well as popular discourse, still portray self-building as an informal and temporary fix for insufficient state investment—as the exception, rather than the rule. Meanwhile, emerging literature about the Global South draws from an analysis of processes, practices, spatialities, and lived experiences of urbanization and dwelling. This literature seeks to unveil how ordinary processes such as self-building unfold in different localities and realities, challenging the reluctance of government and private actors in recognizing self-building as a long-term mode of urban production. This article contributes to this literature through an ethnographic analysis of the oldest and most common modality of self-built houses in Tanzania—the Swahili house—and its unfolding in two traditional, centrally-located neighborhoods of Dar es Salaam. It emphasizes the home and dwelling aspirations, practices, and trajectories of a predominantly low-income population settling in the city. Based on the analysis, this article proposes that the self-building of Swahili houses and neighborhoods in Dar es Salaam represents a form of popular urbanization, characterized by long temporalities that simultaneously facilitate and are facilitated by affordable and incremental forms and processes of home building through residents’ appropriation of their own territories. However, in the city’s increasingly contested inner-city territories, top-down policy responses and large-scale, infrastructure-led urban development generate tensions and make such a popular form of self-building vulnerable to erasure and un-homing.

Keywords:  African cities; emplacement; housing transformation; incrementality; neighborhood transformation; self-building; Swahili house

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v7i1.4849


© Priscila Izar. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.