Aesthetic Authoritarianism: The Caring State and the 'New Luanda'

Presented by Claudia Gastrow

Date: 
Monday, 2 March, 2020 - 15:00

In the aftermath of the Angola's twenty-seven year civil war, the Angolan state launched a countrywide 'national reconstruction' programme, investing in large-scale infrastructure and housing as a means, it claimed, of stabilising the economy and reversing the worst material effects of the war. In Luanda, the capital, these and parallel private projects resulted in widespread and often violent housing demolitions and land grabs. People were forcibly removed for the widening of roads, the installation of sewerage pipes, and the construction of new housing projects. Despite this violence, the Angolan state and many in Luanda represented  these projects as both necessary and egitimate, a sign of state care and concern, rather than the outcome of state aggression. Drawing off fieldwork conducted in Luanda over several years, this paper contributes to a growing literature that has argued not just that the aesthetic is political, but especially in the context of contemporary urban spaces, has become a means of governance, used to discipline populations and building practices. In particular, I make the argument that by attempting to impose aesthetic consensus regarding what a desirable urban was, state actors sought to represent violence as care, enabling them to mobilise aesthetic judgement as means of managing the built environment and its population, this in turn became a key means of extending authoritarian rule during a period of substantive economic growth.

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