The Provision, Planning and Building of Employment-Tied Housing

Language, Agency and Governance in Three Housing Projects in Kenya, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, C. 1940s to 1970s

FWF-Projekt, Projektnr.: P 29566-G28

Beteiligte WissenschaftlerInnen


In the decades immediately before and after independence, an unprecedented demand for housing - a basic requirement in urban life - impelled governments into thinking about the provision, planning and building of houses. The research project's overall objective is to examine how employment-tied housing served as a tool of empire (and later of intependent African states) to project power and exercise domination over societies and to discipline colonial subjects (and later citizens) throughout the so-called 'development era' from the 1940s to the 1970s. To achieve this we will use three different (yet related) analytical layers: agency, language usage and governance. We intend to grasp those layers by elaborating on who was involved in employment-tied housing (agency); on what communication means the involved players applied (language usage); and, on how a set of rules, norms, decisions and actions related to employment-tied housing (governance) each produced and sustained shifts in power relations.Worker housing represented the commonest built element in the colonial landscape and dominantly shaped cultural urban space. Three case studies (Livingstone, Lubumbashi, Thika) will serve as magnifying lenses to understand the constantly changing frictions and relations between the state, key employers and society. We will focus on medium-term changes and continuities in housing conditions of (and for) men and women living and working in the mining industry, commercial agriculture and as clerks in local administration. We intend to explore developments over time and space in employment-tied housing and we wish to shed light on the 'why' and 'how' behind these changes.This project represents an outstanding example of practised interdisciplinarity. As an interdisciplinary reserach group, we rely on sets of expertise, knowledge and methods such as: a) a socio-historically oriented reconstructive approach based on an analysis of various primary sources from archives and private holdings; b) language, discourse and visual analysis; and c) oral history and qualitatively designed interviews.Highly innovative, this project has a great potential to offer new insights to the international academic community through combining housing issues and government control in three atypical urban communities. New systematic and comparative attempt has been made so far to document in a long-term persperctive how the implementation of housing for Africans worked. Moreover, we will place our selected African cases (DR Congo, Kenya, Zambia) into a broader discussion on housing and urban development and thus not only create a comparative, inter-African perspective between them, but go beyond Africa and relate them to their respective metropolises (Brussels and London). Overcoming the more conventional colonial/post-colonial divide we will highlight underlying continuities and changes in employment-tied housing across to crucial periods, at times even point towards contemporary housing and urban developments.