Introduced: Edgar Pieterse

Professor Edgar Pieterse is a South African urban scholar, writer and curator whose interests include the theory and practice of imaginaries to make cities in the Global South more just, open and experimental. He is founding director of the African Centre for Cities (ACC) and Professor at the School of Architecture and Planning, both at the University of Cape Town. 

What are you working on as a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy?

I am editing a book on changing governance dynamics in six African cities - Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, Kigali, Lagos, Luanda, and Nairobi - through the lens of mega projects that have recently been completed. I have also started a new research project that explores the potential for labour-intensive, highly localized and environmentally sensitive approaches to infrastructure development in African cities marked by vast needs and limited public resources. This research will have academic, policy, and exhibition outcomes.

What are the most relevant and most discussed issues in your field? Do perspectives on these issues differ in Germany and your country?

The most pressing issue in urban studies is how to understand and address the complex intersection of political, cultural, economic, and social challenges in cities that are growing at an incredible pace but are burdened with traumatic administrative and economic histories. Examples of such issues are urban food security, and providing safe, affordable and convenient public transport. The intersection of various urban challenges is also a lively debate in Germany with specific reference to more recent dynamics of growing inequality and social exclusion. The institutional and resources parameters are very different, but the fundamental issues are comparable. 

What are you trying to achieve during your fellowship?

My most important goal is to catch up with my reading, have time to reflect, and to restore my passion and energy for my research and curatorial practice. As director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, it is extremely difficult to carve the necessary time and quiet to engage with ideas at a fundamental level. Of course, I am also hoping that this process will be productive in terms of my writing.

In a few words, how would you describe your cooperation with the Robert Bosch Academy? What do you appreciate the most about it?

The Robert Bosch Academy is an oasis. I feel like I have arrived at a desperately needed well of support and inspiration, and this is profoundly enabled by the staff of the Academy. I am deeply appreciative of the space and time I have to reconnect with the passions and ideas that will animate my work over the next decade.

Which new insights are you going to take home to South Africa?

I have been very moved by the ways that German society engages with its complicated and painful past (and present). I have also been inspired to think much more deeply about all we need to still do in South Africa to invigorate public initiatives that will allow us to confront our ghosts. Linked to this, I have been struck by the role cultural and artistic institutions play in civic life.

How do you evaluate the fellow community? To what extent did you get in touch with other fellows and what did you get out of it?

Being part of a fellow community is simply wonderful. All the fellows are of course deeply knowledgeable and accomplished in their respective fields. It is such a joy to have easy access to such a diverse pool of experts and that diversity often proves stimulating in my field. It is particularly great that fellows have a great sense of humour and we can have a good laugh when we are together.

What do you like about Berlin? What is your favorite spot in the city and why?

I am here with my family and have been struck by how wonderful the city is for families. There are ample opportunities to cycle, visit great parks, explore wonderfully curated museums, and of course it is safe. Two of my favorite spots are on the Savignyplatz square: the bookstore which is very close to a wonderful coffeeshop, bizarrely called, Coffee Drink Your Monkey. Lastly, I have thoroughly enjoyed the provocative exhibitions put up at Savvy Contemporary, close to Wedding.