Rents and entitlements: reassessing Africa’s urban pasts and futures

  • James R. Brennan (Department of History, University of Illinois, United States)


This article considers recent literature on contemporary urbanization in Africa that is united in its 'post-normative' orientation, firmly discarding the 'expectations' of modernization that so deeply shaped twentieth-century research on African cities. Best typified by the work of urban anthropologists such as Abdoumaliq Simone, this scholarship instead focuses on the 'vernacularization' of urban structures and strategies in Africa. While such work has developed a host of new insights into the idiosyncratic nature of African urbanization, it has largely eschewed comparative analysis of enduring economic strategies that lie at the heart of the massive growth of African cities. By focusing on the longer-term historical role of such processes – namely urban rents and urban price regulations – this article suggests a more comparative framework for the study of urban Africa that still accounts for the otherwise seemingly hyper-local and idiosyncratic forms of urban livelihoods and strategies.

Key words: urban history, urbanization, consumption, rent, price controls 

How to Cite:

Brennan, J., (2013) “Rents and entitlements: reassessing Africa’s urban pasts and futures”, Afrika Focus 26(1). doi:

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Published on
11 Feb 2013
Peer Reviewed