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Engineering Authority: Design, Architecture, and Power in Africa

African And African-american Studies 442 - Spring 2020

Do water meters have politics? Can architects manufacture consent for political repression or engage in activism? What happens when designed systems fail? Design is everywhere. It is in the water you drink; it is in the built material and digital spaces you hang out in; and it is in the chair you are sitting in. And yet, perhaps because of its ubiquity, design receives very little attention from scholars in the humanities, and less from African studies. In this course, we will examine a number of case studies from minor architectures and ruins in Monrovia to hydraulic engineering in Johannesburg and iconic architecture in Casablanca to DIY market spaces in Nairobi and insurgent public space making in Kinshasa. We will explore the ways that designers, architects, and technocrats engineer authority and how (sometimes) urban residents take it apart. One potential definition (among many other potential definitions) of design could be: the practices that humans employ to arrange, engineer, plan and fashion their material, digital, and social environments. But designs are also artifacts-masterplans, prototypes, and brands-that occupy social lives independent of their assigned functions. Design is often about aspirations for a better world, finding technological and aesthetic solutions to social problems. Yet the products of design, from zoning codes and service delivery networks to iconic built structures, seem to always invite failures, disruptions, hackings, and ruination. A central argument in this course is that understanding design is also key to understanding power, inequality, and insurgency in Africa. We will draw our texts and case studies from places that are normally left off the map of design studies-African cities and towns-and explore the applicability of these theories to St. Louis.
Course Attributes: EN SBU BAAS SSCFA SSCAR SSCFA VCFA CPSC

Section 01

Engineering Authority: Design, Architecture, and Power in Africa
INSTRUCTOR: Shearer
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