Highway Africa Research Studio


Kenny Cupers, Manuel Herz, Giulia Scotto

Course Description:

Highway Africa is a research studio that explores the past, present, and future of the trans-African highway network. With the end of colonization in Africa came unprecedented ambitions of modernization. These coalesced around plans for highway networks linking the continent’s newly independent nations. For members of the elite, such networks were first and foremost economic propositions, to facilitate the movement of goods and materials across Africa and for export abroad. Political actors saw in the projected networks opportunities to forge a new era of pan-African cooperation and trans-continental development. For a fledgling middle class, the highways conjured imaginaries of upward social mobility and for entire communities they opened up hopes of movement unlike anything experienced before. With the gigantic boom in infrastructure investment across the continent today, the trans-African highways are experiencing second lives. Chinese developers, the African Development Bank, and other international organization are laying vast multi-lane highways that are radically transforming African urban centers and countrysides.

How does highway infrastructure shape the course of history? What are the stakes of such large-scale ambitions of development? Focusing on the multiple dimensions of development on the ground, Highway Africa questions conventional approaches to infrastructure and urbanization in and beyond Africa. When highways or railways figure in urban or Africa-focused research, they tend to appear as merely technical problems of development: either they are described as lacking, or they are treated as magical solutions to reduce poverty and conflict. The aim of the research studio is to contribute to new understandings about the relationship between material infrastructure and the everyday realities of urbanization, by taking account of its historical complexity, lived experience, and the multivalent dreams and projects it generates.

Format and Learning Objectives:

The “research studio” a new and unique teaching format at the University of Basel, and is the central element of the new MA in Critical Urbanisms, which starts in the autumn 2017. The aim of the research studio is to equip students with collaborative and multi-disciplinary research skills. Combining existing formats such as lectures, reading seminars, and tutorials, the studio allows students to work together in a shared space. The studio immerses students in collaborative, interdisciplinary research practice that combines humanities and social-scientific methods with visual and spatial analysis and representation. Jointly taught by core and affiliated faculty, with regular visits by external experts, the studio takes place in a dedicated space, which acts as a laboratory in which small teams of students hailing from different disciplinary backgrounds can work closely together. You will work on a range of different and complementary outputs, ranging from essays to illustrated booklets, maps and diagrams, photographic projects, videos, and installations. This work will be assembled and edited to be made public as a collective outcome of the research studio.



Part of Module:

Interdisciplinary Research Practice

Type:  Research Studio
Semester:  Fall
Credit Points:  10 CP
Location:  Studio Space, Petersgraben 52
Language of instruction:  English
Scale:  Pass/Fail

Learn more: