Age of Concrete: Housing and the Imagination in Mozambique's Capital, c. 1950 to Recent Times

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Age of Concrete: Housing and the Imagination in Mozambique's Capital, c. 1950 to Recent Times

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This thesis is about what historically has been one of the greatest preoccupations for residents of Maputo, Mozambique: the securing of a place to live. For most, this has meant the construction of a house in the flood-prone informal areas of the city, known as the subúrbios, and the maintenance of that house over successive generations. To consider where people have lived is to explore how they have lived, what they have cared about, and what they have worked for, and so ultimately this thesis is about how housing has long embodied not just the “making do” of urban living – the emphasis of much of the scholarship on African cities – but also some of people’s most keenly felt aspirations. The period studied embraces the colonial and postcolonial eras in roughly equal measure, beginning in the late 1940s when Maputo, now a metropolis of some two million, was a small port city called Lourenço Marques. Because Maputo was one of the relatively few cities in Africa where explosive growth took place for a full generation while still under colonial rule, the city’s built landscape offers a window onto the changing dynamics of everyday life at very different historical moments. My research rests on a rigorous project of oral history, with interviews with approximately 100 individuals in Mozambique and Portugal over several years. Addressed are how people responded in the past to the ever-looming threat of removal; how they negotiated with landowners; and how they contended with neighbors with whom they shared an all-too-elastic boundary line. I investigate the myriad unwritten rules that governed space, how such rules were enforced, and how disputes were resolved, or not resolved. The result is to demonstrate how, through the medium of housing, urban Mozambicans not only gave specific content to their visions of modernity, but also to authority, governance, and the state – conceptions that took on a new relevance in the years after independence from Portugal in 1975. As a new state struggled into being, and focused on rural issues, the nature of urban citizenship was being shaped considerably from below.


University of Minnesota PhD dissertation. May 2015. Major: History. Advisors: Allen F. Isaacman and Helena Pohlandt-McCormick. 1 computer file (PDF): xi, 362 pages.

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Morton, David Simon. (2015). Age of Concrete: Housing and the Imagination in Mozambique's Capital, c. 1950 to Recent Times. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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