On diversity, owl and companions: winning the Academy for African Urban Diversity prize
On September 17th, our colleague Adriano Biza was awarded the Academy for African Urban Diversity (AAUD) research paper prize. Sponsored by Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Cape Town, AAUD brings together doctoral students to study Africa’s growing and diversifying cities.
My winning research paper uses the capital city of Mozambique, Maputo, as a case study to analyze the relationship between urban nature, subjectivity and infrastructure in African cities. In this paper, toghether with my co-authors, I use Foucault’s analytics of governmentality together with situated political ecology to explain how sanitation has historically been used to produce differences – between urban populations, and urban spaces – in Maputo. I identify how sanitation was used as a technology of government to produce the differences, and exclusions, necessary to legitimize the creation of Lourenço Marques (current Maputo City) as a profitable center for colonial trade. These differences were materialized in the racialized transformation of the urban environment.
Surely winning a prize is undoubtedly a fantastic news. This would please anyone and I am no exception. As was mentioned by the organizers when announcing the award, the award recognizes intellectual work invested and other pronounced academic technicalities. I would also like to add the emotional and even physical hard work put into the paper. I use to say that this paper summarizes a lot of my PhD candidate trajectory, since while writing it I experienced a series of contradictory feelings: from enjoyment of being one of the much sought-after PhD candidate status to a period of depression, and then to an experience of enormous enchantment with the extent and quality of the archival material I found in Lisbon and Maputo, followed by the “stuckness stage” of not glimpsing what to do and to say with this material. On this matter, I would like to extend this award recognition to my supervisors Margreet Zwarteveen, Michelle Kooy, and Sandra Manuel for their insightful and patient coaching.
Separate from the experience of winning the paper prize, I would like to share what I learned in these workshops, and what difference this experience as an AAUD fellow made to my work. My participation to AAUD workshop was transformative; it eased some steps of my PhD trajectory. First, the AAUD workshops worked simultaneously as a peer conversation space and a helpful PhD support group. The peer momentum provided was a true mean of helping each other and allowed participants to reflect and openly discuss matters related to our research projects, often in critical constructive manner. We shared important ideas, problems, dilemmas and challenges regarding our PhD research process. There are of course numerous other blog posts, PhD research websites, and books, but there is nothing better than to sit, listen and share with someone who is going through same course to learn the ways of muddling through the difficulties of the journey.
The second benefit of this experience is related to how it elevated my theoretical ambitions. Through individual mentoring and exposure in seminars to theoretical and methodological work of experienced researchers I was pushed and challenged to situate my work in major disciplinary and/or global theoretical debates in the field of social sciences. It was recurrent to be asked “what your empirical data allow you to say?” and / or “to whom you wish to speak?”. These questions were not really new for me – as my supervisors had asked me this many times before – but the diversity of research subjects among the participants allowed each one of us to glimpse on how this can be done from concrete examples drawn from various thematic entry points. The fellows’ research topics ranged from migration and urban housing, passing through urban religiosity, popular politics, affects and securization, and going to urban economy and sociabilities in Africa. This diversity of themes challenged me to reflect beyond and pushing to overcome the bounds of my water governance theories and knowledge. This made the workshops real spaces of intellectual conversation.
The other dimension of gains had to do with the visibility of our research and networking. I met with journals editors and book publishers who shared their own experiences and tips and tricks on how to publish, marketing and made our work visible. This allowed the participants to know much more about the formalities, the micro politics and the ‘unsaid’ of the publishing industry. Additionally, I really enjoyed engaging with and building connections with my companions. I dare to say I built a new family and we are looking forward to make these connections into something tangible, since there are many areas of common interest.
Finally I would like to say few words about the different meanings associated with the prize. I got a very iconic reward: a metal mascot/sculpture of an owl, which in Greek mythology represents knowledge, wisdom, erudition, perspicacity, and also philosophy. The owl has big and always open eyes that symbolize the ability to see beyond deceit and masks, or said otherwise, the capacity to see what others do not see. Conversely, in my own country – Mozambique – the traditional meaning of the owl is the announcer of death. It is a bird of the night whose hooting signifies the imminent death of a close relative or that a bad thing and change will happen in your life. So, how to navigate in these contradictory meanings and worldviews that the PhD trajectory exposes us, and at the same time continue to bask in the glow?