'Nai-rob-me Nai-beg-me Nai-shanty: Historicizing Space-Subjectivity Connections in Nairobi from its Ruins
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What can personal histories from poor urban settlements in Nairobi tell us about the history and future of this city? How do these entangled life stories belie vogue narratives of phenomena such as rural-urban migration, urban-development and postcoloniality, while also shedding light on the durability of empire? Through an ethnographic and archival exploration of the poor urban settlement of Mathare, located close to central Nairobi, I argue that urban planning emerges from within an assemblage of imperial political, social, economic and ecological ideas and practices, to produce what I term ecologies of exclusion. In essence, these planning interventions, materializing from within epistemologies of empire, co-constitutively manifest as neglect and force in Nairobis margins to create and sustain inequality in certain neighbourhoodsits ruins. In addition, I show how, both now and in the past, this mode of urban governance conjures up and sustains negative stereotypical subjectivities about certain populations in order to legitimize inequalities within its formal spatial management practices. Furthermore, contemporary colonial modes of urban planning require a constant and ever more forceful militarization of poor urban spaces. Notwithstanding this now naturalized violent space-subjectivity enterprise, those who have long been categorized as the robbers, beggars and shanty dwellers of Nairobi engage with and emerge from these ruins of empire through unexpected ethical and political projects. And, from within their urban struggles, they render alternative subjectivities of self and space that articulate more grounded narrations of the history and possible futures of this city.