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Shifting sands in Accra, Ghana: the ante-lives of urban form

Dawson, Katherine (2020) Shifting sands in Accra, Ghana: the ante-lives of urban form. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004234


This thesis thinks with sand and its fundamental relationship to the making of the city. Sand is a material of our shared contemporary. Constituting roads, buildings, fracking technologies, computer chips, glass and land itself, this grainy material is at ‘the core of our daily lives’ (Beiser, 2018:2). This ubiquity has generated global demand, with sand and gravel constituting the largest volume of solid material extracted worldwide (UNEP, 2014). Yet, despite the centrality of sand to our social reproduction, as well as evidence of its eco-political implications (Beiser, 2018), limited academic work has engaged with this material. Drawing on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in the expanding West African city of Accra, this thesis unpacks more specifically the processes through which sand is drawn into the urban process, or indeed urbanised. While sand – mixed with cement and water – is destined to become part of the city’s expanding urban form, this thesis looks instead to the processes that take shape prior to sand’s manifestation as the material building blocks of the city. In this way, this thesis details the before lives – or ante-lives – of urban form. The thesis details the practices of extraction from mines at the sprawling edges of Accra, engages with the labours that surround sand’s extraction and movement and deploys innovative ways of scripting the anxious worlds of the city’s shifting landscapes. In this way, the thesis shows that urbanisation must be understood as a set of unfolding interfaces between geologic forces, ecological processes, historical conditions, cultural forms and political-economic regimes. Together, the chapters in this thesis present a significant contribution at the articulation of urban political ecology (UPE), geosocial analyses, extractivism, [African] urbanism, postcolonialism, labour practices and ethnography, meanwhile offering up novel ways of reading the shifting landscapes of Accra’s ‘urban now’ (Baloji and De Boeck, 2017).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Katherine Dawson
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD100 Land Use
Sets: Departments > Geography and Environment
Supervisor: Mercer, Claire and Zeiderman, Austin

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