Panel Proposal for the conference

Africa-Asia, A New Axis of Knowledge – Second Edition,

September 20 – 22, 2018 Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


Panel Title

Neighbourhoods as if People Matter: Mobility, Memory and Livelihood in the Everyday Urban

Panel Abstract

Every city or town contains fragments of ecological and historic landscapes intimately linked with spaces of human residential and livelihood settlements. What happens when one views an urban site of significance – be it a heritage monument, a water body, a colonial graveyard, a national border, a temple or mosque, a market, or a cultural center – from the vantage of the people who inhabit the spaces around it? How can one make the city and its diverse residents become deeply legible for students, educators, policy makers and for resident communities themselves?


Each of the papers in this panel focuses upon one such urban ecology/built heritage marker from a city in Asia and Africa. Discovering and unpacking the layers of time written upon a neighbourhood settlement, associated with a locally meaningful (rather than nationally significant) site, allows one to expand conventional readings of the urban to include the vast spectrum of everyday realities and experiences of the city. Such a relational or inter-connected stance, concerning the whole social fabric of the urban – its micro ecology, built environment, cultural and religious traditions, literary and artistic expressions, narratives of settlement, memorabilia, livelihood practices, community maps and photographs – offers us a kaleidoscope of methodologies for understanding the city from the vantage of the everyday and to embrace both its past and its present.


Using the neighbourhood as an entry point of research will reclaim the centrality of living and livelihood or the “everyday urban” as a fresh area of inter-disciplinary research combining social ecology, subaltern histories, urban studies and social anthropology. Each paper in this panel calls for a humanistic understanding of the city, using the neighbourhood as an axis of social engagement.  In this way we hope scholars and professionals of the urban will come closer to understanding what really happens inside a city by rendering meaningful, not only an urban site of significance but also the people living in its vicinity.

Potential participants

  1. Komsan Teeraparbwong, Chiang Mai, Thailand (SEANNET)
  2. Boonanan Natakun, Bangkok, Thailand (SEANNET)
  3. Adrian Perkasa, Universitas Airlangga, Surabaya, (SEANNET)
  4. Surajit Sarkar, CCK, Ambedkar University Delhi, Delhi, India (HaB)
  5. Abdourahmane Seck, UGB, Saint Louis, Senegal (HaB)
  6. Kojo Aidoo, Ghana University, Accra (HaB)
  7. Jama Musse Jama, Redsea Cultural Foundation, Hargeysa, Somaliland



  1. Wua Lai Neighborhood, Chiang Mai Thailand

Wua-Lai is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chiang Mai, the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand. At the end of 18th century, in order to rebuild the city after years of war, King Kawila brought the craftsmen in silverware and lacquerware from Salawin river valley in Myanmar to settle in the “in-between” space of inner and outer walls of the city. Unlike the life in the inner wall (wiang) where royal families and elites lived, the life in Wua-Lai area was much more of a local life where people helped (re)build the city. The socio-spatial role of the area gradually evolved from a small village (ban) to a neighbourhood which grew around markets, local temples with distinctive craft and economic activities (yan). The unique characteristics of Wua-Lai as a craft village become famous since 1960s, following the government’s policy to promote Chiang Mai as a main tourist’s regional hub. The newly infill developments and the tourist promotion projects have caused a transformation of neighborhood’s morphology and social structure. In response, the centres of craftsman were set by the local initiative to preserve the local skill and knowledge and to keep alive the ties of kinship. This study deals with the inhabitants’ capacity of auto-organisation : how they reinforce the link between members of neighborhood, stimulate local economy and promote the local cultural heritage. We observe that there are several groups of persons who engage in craft production and conservation, such as local temples, young designers and craftsmen. The knowledge and expertise of the latter are a testimony of human creative and neighborhood’s cultural roots which are in a risk of disappearing. However, these groups work each on their own. Our objective is to create a platform which allow them to share ideas on how to sustain their local knowledge, social ties and cultural identity.

Presenter’s Bio

Komson Teeraparbwong is Assistant Professor at Faculty of Architecture, Chiang Mai University (FACMU). He graduated from Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand before receiving the Royal Thai Scholarship for his graduate study (Architecture and Urban Design Program) at GSAPP, Columbia University, New York, U.S.A. and Graduate School, The Architectural Association, London, U.K.. He was Assistant Dean of FACMU (during 2008-2012) and is now the Program Director for an international 4-year B.Sc. in Integrated Design in Emerging Architecture (IDEA). He works on Chiang Mai UNESCO World Heritage Nomination and volunteers for The Association of Siamese Architects (Lanna branch), ASA-Lanna.


  1. Nang Loeng Neighborhood, Bangkok Thailand

Located in the heart of Rattanakosin Island, also known as the Old City of Bangkok, this community has a comparatively long history dating back to the reign of King Rama III (1824 – 1851). Locals from the surrounding neighborhoods know the “Nang Leong Community” as a place where one can find the finest local cuisines inside its crisscrossing alleyways. Almost as old as Bangkok itself, it has rich and complex multi-ethnic settlements. The community has gone through many phases of transformation beginning with the city’s expansion toward the outer wall of Bangkok in the late 1850s, the construction of the city’s first tram line making the community an attraction on the city’s spine, and the building of many shop houses after the Second World War.

Tucked behind the rows of shophouses on the main road, a community house was renovated through services of community architects. A former dance studio, the house features music records objects from early post-World War II time. The combination of collections of old objects, an open space for community dancing and gathering makes the house a living museum, through which people from within and outside the neighborhoods can learn about the history of the place and the influence of Western popular music in Thailand.

Presenter’s Bio

Boonanan Natakun is a researcher and educator in the field of architecture, planning and design. His interest encompasses community planning and design, urban studies and urban sustainability especially in terms of social and cultural dimensions. His current research studies focus on upgrading processes in participatory slum upgrading and community-driven development programs in developing countries and house modification in low-income settlements both in formal and informal housing.


  1. Kampung Peneleh, Surabaya, Indonesia

Kampung Peneleh is one of the oldest “kampong” or “kampung” (urban village) neighborhoods in Surabaya, with many layers of identity. The neighborhood is adjacent to Peneleh Cemetery, a Dutch colonial cemetery that was built in 1814. The neighborhood is also popularly linked to the history of Sunan Ampel (15th century), one of the Muslim saints who spread Islam in Java. Until now, the alleyways of the kampung are intertwined with old Muslim graves from the 18th-19th century. Contrary to the usually popular perception of graveyards as eerie sites, these old Muslim graves have become part of the contemporary everyday life and have initiated spiritual legends of the neighborhood.

Kampung Peneleh is the place where Soekarno, the first president of Indonesia who was a leader of Indonesia’s nationalist movement and the initiator of Asia-Africa Conference or Bandung Conference, spent his youth years. The house of Tjokroaminoto (Tjokro House), one of the national heroes who was also Soekarno’s teacher, was also in the neighborhood and is now a small museum.

The city government have designated the neighborhood as ‘heritage kampung’ and promoted it as a city attraction. However, the way the city values the neighborhood is detached from the residents. For example, the city government museumified the Tjokro House rather than keeping it open for gatherings of the community and students like the way Tjokroaminoto turned the house into an informal community center. The official heritage designation also did not lead to any financial nor professional assistance for renovating and maintaining the colonial-era houses and buildings, many of which had deteriorated.

Surabaya’s development as the second largest city in Indonesia also bring more pressures to transform the neighborhood that is centrally located in the city, especially after the rehabilitation and beautification of the adjacent Kalimas River by the city government.

Presenter’s Bio

Adrian Perkasa is a lecturer in Department of History, Faculty of Humanities, Universitas Airlangga. He received his MA degree in History from Universitas Gadjah Mada and dual bachelor degrees in History and International Relations from Airlangga. He participated in the Urban Conservation Network in Asia and its Future Symposium in Penang that led to the establishment of the Asian Heritage Network in 2013. Currently he is researching history and heritage conservation in Surabaya and East Java.


  1. Neighbourhood Museum, Delhi India


Since 2013, the city of Delhi in India has been home to the Neighbourhood Pop-up Museum. This temporary museum-like exhibition, with artefacts, photo and text, has appeared in four different neighbourhoods in the city, from post independence (1947) migrant settlements, to villages that are now homes to heterogenous populations in the city core, to neighbourhoods that have been urban spaces for more than seven centuries.

The neighborhood museum, a local collection of tangible and intangible heritage, focuses on both kinds, from monuments and archaeological artifacts, to intangible aspects like changing foods and clothing in the local market, storytelling and festivity, to the use of open spaces and public buildings. However, by locating these narratives from ‘below’, i.e. the perspective of the ordinary individual, we have discovered how oral history, personal memories, lived experiences, and artifacts of daily use hold value for the way history is understood.  This often runs counter to the Authorized Heritage Discourse (AHD), which focuses on built heritage such as monuments, with very little importance being given to the lived experiences of people. Moreover, the official histories, relying on rigid modes like displaced archaeological artifacts and textual documents in museums, libraries, and archives, further alienate the context. It also needs to be noted that most of AHD was compiled at the behest of the ruling elite, which has grave implications on what has been preserved as national heritage.

On the other hand, an open and transparent collection of neighborhood stories makes the narratives otherwise consigned to the margins visible and available to the local, common public. The narratives present the story of the city’s development as perceived and experienced by ordinary people, how it affected their lives, how they coped. Personal memories are gaining traction as an authentic source of historical information that can provide such counter/alternate-narratives, which is what makes a neighborhood museum a significant undertaking in historical research. The information and exhibits at the museum encourages visitors as well as neighborhood residents to reflect on the similarities and difference between the past and the present, and their own everyday experiences. In addition, the Neighbourhood Museum in Delhi is now visible enough to lead other neighbourhoods to volunteer to host one, a validation of the importance of the little histories that make up the Urban. However, experience has shown that attention at all times should keep on documenting the oral in the local, instead of  relying on already available information.  The tensions across class, ethnicity and caste cannot be erased even in neighbourhoods, and an important way of handling this is by visibilising orality. Only then can we move towards a people-centred history and understanding of the city.

Presenter’s Bio

Surajit Sarkar is currently Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Centre for Community Knowledge at Ambedkar University Delhi. He is the current President of the Oral History Association of India (OHAI), Executive Member of the International Association of Agricultural Museums (AIMA) and is on the Public Advisory Board of the Society for Cultural Anthropology (USA). Prior to an academic career, he worked as a photocopier salesman, a bank officer, primary school teacher and as film and TV director. Since joining Ambedkar University Delhi in 2012, his Centre is working towards a documentation and exhibition programme of the lived histories of the megacity of Delhi. In this way, building a story of a living mega-city, from the ground up, curated and exhibited locally as it is created.


  1. Hilla Kodji Neighborhood, Togo-Benin Border

A sprawling border community between two former French colonies, the republics of Togo and Benin, Hilla Kodji as a result of cross-border mobilities, has become home to different nationalities from the West African sub-region. It has become an amalgamation, indeed a microcosm of what might be considered ‘pan African living’. It has, over the years, become the quintessential multi-national locality, and the epicenter of trade bordering Togo and Benin. It is one of the most porous borders in the West African sub-region. With the exception of national budgets, which stop short of the frontiers, every other thing no knows border at Hilla Kodji, particularly migration and currency. Numerous sellers, some teens or women with a baby on their back, serve customers all day and night as do numerous ‘black market’ currency dealers. A striking development in this locality is the phenomenon of trading based on the simultaneous use of multiple currencies, viz, the Ghanaian Cedi, French CFA, and Nigerian Naira. This is despite the fact that the only legal tender in Togo is the CFA. The existence of Hilla Kodji community therefore poses a challenge to the Togolese nation-state, its political economy, autonomy, power, and authority. One witnesses trends towards informalization in this neighborhood. It has become an ‘economic zone’ in which Ghanaians, Togolese, Beninese, and Nigerians are freely, and without restraints, engaged. In this frontier among Togo and Benin spoken accounts reorder political limits, and reveal identities, traditions and even feelings that that might be considered grassroots pan Africanism. The Hilla Kodji locality looks like the people the border could not divide – real grassroots pan African living!

 Presenter’s Bio

Kojo Opoku Aidoo is presently Senior Research Fellow and Coordinator of the Politics and History Section at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana. He has earlier held academic appointments at the Ghana Institute of Journalism and the Institute of Development Studies at University of Cape Coast, and been a visiting scholar at the Zhejiang University, Jinhua, China. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Ghana (2003) where he specialized in Critical and Democratic Theory, Political Liberalism, Afro Politics, and Political Economy of African Development. His scholarship examines how ingrained informal institutions of neopatrimonial governance bear a heavy, though far from exclusive, responsibility for the low issue participation in emerging democracies, focusing on Anglophone Africa.


  1. At the street school or reflections on two People’s Academies in Senegal – the banc jaaxle and the Grand-Place¤.

The banc jaaxle is a metaphor for a gathering place where a given neighbourhood or street’s youth like to meet to chat. Literally, it means, the “bench of despair”, because young people very often call into question a world whose relevance and justice they are unable to see, while also projecting themselves into the future. Grand-Place refers to the same idea of ​​a meeting place, but in this case it is not so much young people, but mostly older, often retired people who meet.

The street is the domain of interaction par excellence and of its constant reinvention. Paradoxically, the street is a place that arouses fear and inspires mistrust and the desire for control in structures reproducing the social order (State, family, school or religion). This rule applies just as much to West Africa, despite it being the crucible of a very long history in which the art of palaver, i.e. men’s deliberation of men’s affairs, found expression in the street. The questioning of the space the street represents was based essentially on the organization of a devaluing dichotomy which, against all the region’s scholarly and political traditions, made the street a place of non-knowledge on the one hand and, on the other, a place of idleness. The work of discarding or even erasing the street has, however, been very seriously challenged by many. It is in this context that, at the Heart of urban spaces and from the tyranny of the times applied to the street in the name of neoliberal values, specific places have emerged that have managed to preserve temporalities that value both “wasting” time as well as discussions about everything and nothing in the street, but also games, as games strengthen social bonds. It is because these special places are important moments for the production of words and for the criticism of the spoken word that I call them People’s Academies here. Like many others, I too confer them with the virtue of being informative and formative. Indeed, everything under the sun is discussed here, ranging from one’s home to the neighbourhood, from people to society, from the unreasonable to the sensible, from the good to the unacceptable. In this contribution, I will expose the different forms taken by these special places in the street, within the contemporary West African context, before taking a more in-depth view of the Senegalese case, more specifically. I will then explore the main threats to these special places, particularly those related to the major urban and architectural changes occurring in our countries, along with the development of social networks.

 Presenter’s Bio

Abdourahmane Seck is an anthropologist and historian based in the Faculty of Civilizations, Religions, Arts and Communication University Gaston Berger of Saint-Louis, where he teaches at the Centre for the Study of Religions. Dr Seck is the author of several works on Islam and the south-south migration. After the book on La question musulmane au Sénégal. Essai d’anthropologie d’une nouvelle modernité (Karthala, Paris 2010), he has co-edited recently two books: Figures et discours de migrants. Mémoires de routes et de corps (Riveneuve, Paris 2015) and Etat, islam et sociétés au Sénégal (Karthala, Paris 2015). He led the religions Study Centre of the University Gaston Berger between 2012 and 2014. He is currently the Deputy Director of the Laboratory for Analysis of Societies and Powers / Africa -Diasporas (LASPAD) and coordinator of the Observatory of African diasporas (ODA)


Redsea Cultural Foundation, Hargeysa, Somaliland

Redsea Cultural Foundation is a Cultural Foundation based in Somaliland, which promotes the cultural of reading and creative writing in Somali speaking society, with a focus on youth. In addition, RCF supports and promotes information and communication information and communication technology for development within Somaliland society. RCF promotes and distributes high quality Somali literature contents (essays, history, fiction, science, poetry and drama) and provides young people with access to the cultures of the world by translating international renowned classical literature (including fiction, poetry and drama) into Somali. The main RCF target is to value and to preserve Somali traditional human-created wisdom (literature, indigenous science, traditional games, language and all other forms of art of human expression) in the form of the written word. Somalis are traditionally an oral society, and their culture is profoundly animated by the spoken word, and the highest art of Somali culture is poetry, which is a literary form produced for performance.

The Hargeysa Cultural Centre (HCC) was established in 2014 by the Redsea Cultural Foundation in Somaliland. It is a permanent center providing services throughout the year, including cultural events, an art gallery and a public library. HCC developed off the back of the annual Hargeysa International Book Fair (HIBF), which is the main cultural event currently taking place in the Horn of Africa, and the largest public celebration of books in East Africa. This event brings writers, poets, artists and scholars from all over the world to Hargeysa to share and discuss their own and Somali arts, culture and literature with audiences in English and Somali.

With a public library, art gallery, laboratory for painting and open space for debates, RCF—through HCC—is building both a virtual and physical public space that allows a sustainable neighbourhood based on a sense of belonging and sharing things in common.

 Presenter’s Bio

Jama Musse Jama is an ethnomathematician and author of Somali language and literature. He has a PhD in African Studies specializing in Computational Linguistics of African Languages. He has created and currently directs the Somali Corpus, an online platform to manage a corpus database for Somali language with over 5 million words tagged. A cultural activist, researcher on historical documents, traditional architecture, oral history of Somali society, and their preservation, Dr. Jama Musse is known for his research on African traditional games and their possible use for formal education. His leadership and work at Redsea Cultural Foundation and Hargeysa Cultural Centre earned him recognition in Somaliland and internationally. Author or editor of several books and book chapters, Dr. Jama Musse Jama is also the founder and yearly organizer of Hargeysa International Book Fair, one of the most important literature festivals and book celebration in Africa.


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