Living together in the post-conflict city: Radio and the re-making of place in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
Fabien's PhD thesis situates itself at the intersection of media studies, urban studies, geography and anthropology. Its starting question is: How can media help people live together in cities characterised by multiplicity and conflict? Theoretically, addressing this question requires interrogating everyday practices of urban cohabitation, and examining how various media are embedded in what sociologist AbdouMaliq Simone (2010) calls "the social infrastructure of city life." Empirically, Fabien's research centres on the example of local radio in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa's second largest city (5 million inhabitants). Life in Abidjan has been shaped by a long history of migration, dramatic economic crisis since the 1980s, and by a decade of ethno-political conflict culminating in post-electoral war in 2011. Since then, local radio stations have been at the forefront of peace-building efforts. They operate in a complex and contested environment, marked by lingering fear, resentment and one-sided justice. Following ethnographic engagement with producers, listeners, and ordinary urban dwellers, Fabien argues in his thesis that radio's primary contribution to post-conflict cohabitation is as a formidable platform for encounters. Radio's lively sociability, on and off the airwaves, allows urban dwellers - for whom social connection is often synonymous with livelihood - to cross paths with strangers. The multiplication and repetition of radio encounters creates new, open-ended senses of place. These new forms of togetherness remain barely registered, however. In large part, this is because the Ivoirian state and international agencies envision urban togetherness as consensus and community, and use these tropes to silence any radio talk deemed "political".
Supervisors: Professor Nick Couldry and Dr Wendy Willems
Fabien's previous research explored the role of various mediators in shaping urban places. Fabien has researched the changing spatialities of black radio in five post-war US cities, delving into the history, sociology and cultural analysis of race in urban North America (EHESS, Paris). In later research, Fabien examined the politics and practices of designing new neighbourhoods at the border between Paris and its suburbs, in an age of "metropolitan" transformation (UCL, London). Outside of academia, Fabien has done research for grassroots campaigns in London (including Just Space and the Migrants' Rights Network), a cultural sector charity in Manchester, and social services administration in Paris. Fabien's latest, developing interests include: 1) the narratives and realities of technology-driven urban transformation (e.g. rhetoric of "smart cities," "connected communities," infrastructural "disruption" or "leapfrogging"), especially in contemporary African contexts; 2) imaginaries of urban transport and entrepreneurship, from an ethnographic and comparative perspective; and 3) resistance to monopolistic digital platforms (chief amongst which Uber and AirBnB) in various cities of Europe and Africa.