Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar

Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar

William Cunningham Bissell
Distribution: World
Publication date: 12/08/2010
Format: Paperback 27 b&w illus., 9 maps
ISBN: 978-0-253-22255-8
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Finalist, 2012 Herskovits Award

Across Africa and elsewhere, colonialism promised to deliver progress and development. In urban spaces like Zanzibar, the British vowed to import scientific techniques and practices, ranging from sanitation to urban planning, to create a perfect city. Rather than remaking space, these designs often unraveled. Plans were formulated and then fell by the wayside, over and over again. By focusing on these flawed efforts to impose colonial order, William Cunningham Bissell offers a different view of colonialism and cities, revealing the contradictions, confusion, and even chaos that lay at the very core of British rule. At once an engaging portrait of a cosmopolitan African city and an exploration of colonial irrationality, Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar opens up new perspectives on the making of modernity and the metropolis.

Author Bio

William Cunningham Bissell is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Lafayette College.


“Contributes to the growing body of work in African urban history and to the study of Zanzibar. . . . Bissell writes beautifully and makes very good use of his archival research.”
 — Garth Myers, University of Kansas

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Landscapes of Power and Planning

1 Cosmopolitan Lives, Urbane Worlds: Space and Society in Zanzibar City
2 Uncertain States: Colonial Practices and the Ambiguities of Power
3 Colonial Cartographies: Struggling to Make Sense of Urban Space
4 Disease, Environment, and Social Engineering: Clearing Out and Cleaning Up the Colonial City
5 Development and the Dilemmas of Expertise
6 Failures of Implementation: Circularity and Secrecy in the Pursuit of Planning
7 Disorder by Design: Legal Confusion and Bureaucratic Chaos in Colonial Planning

Conclusion: Reflections on Planning, Colonial Power, and Continuities in the Present


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