Reassembling risk and urban identities
: the deployment of Dakar's neoliberal reform

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Cities in the Global South are growing at an increasing pace. Larger concentrations of population and physical infrastructure, and denser and faster networks of exchange develop within and reach beyond these urban spaces. Critical scholars concerned with urban risk have described this as a challenge, but also as an opportunity. They have argued that the rapid urbanisation of Southern cities could bring about the possibility of urban trajectories influenced by the risk priorities of the urban poor. However, much of the urban scholarship has described the urban South in opposition to the urban North, as an expression of failed urbanism due to the predatory effects of global capitalism. In the midst of significant socio-environmental transformations such as those producing new climate extremes and new risk governmentalities, the urban South emerges as a distinct space to understand urban transformations.

This thesis responds to these challenges by developing an analytical framework that explains how urbanisation (re)produces urban risk and its spatial and social distributions without reducing the specificities of Southern cities. It draws on Governmentality, Assemblage Theory and New Social Movement Theory to explain how the deployment of a neoliberal reform in Dakar, through its concrete urban assemblages, was negotiated and emerged as new urban trajectories. As an entry point, the enquiry focused on the coevolution of identities, risks and neoliberal projects in three sites of Dakar, connected through risk flows. Through the development of this framework, this thesis has contributed to extending and empirically grounding the frameworks of Assemblage and Virtual Plane. It has also translated Virtual Plane from a domain of thermodynamics into the field of meaning. It conducted a discourse analysis of policy, law and programme documents, codifying Dakar’s neoliberal reform and in-depth interviews with members of groups with a politicised position with respect to the reform.

The deployment of Dakar’s neoliberal reform sought the management of risks threatening the national economy by reassembling the relationships between Government, citizens and land. It enhanced and oriented the capacity of Government institutions and population groups to ensure their self-reliance. While this implied the establishment of boundaries wherein these groups and institutions should direct their agencies, it did not determine their direction. In the concrete, the deployment of the reform was found to be negotiated by groups whose members recognised each other for their family, religious, ethnic and youth identity traits. Despite the pressures of the reform, the assemblages formed by these groups re-emerged, transferring the land tenure insecurity produced by the reform to rural migrants living in Dakar’s urban periphery. However, the reform also offered the urban youth among rural migrants the opportunity to deflect flood risk. The funding of flood mitigation programmes served the urban youth to develop a network of influence that cut across Government institutions and civil society organisations. This network succeeded in negotiating the construction of flood drainage canals funded by the Government, by which flood risk was transferred to other locations in Dakar. The analysis, therefore reveals how Dakar’s assemblages shaped Dakar’s Urban Reform and its associated risk flows. It invites policy and programmes interested in urban risk to broaden their focus from institutional capacity to opportunity flows and networks of influence.
Date of Award1 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorHelen Adams (Supervisor), Maria Rusca (Supervisor) & Mark Pelling (Supervisor)

Cite this