Romain Dittgen is a Human Geographer with a longstanding intellectual interest in studying various aspects of China-Africa relations, as well as links between forms of urban production and ways of living in cities within Southern Africa. Holding a PhD from the University of Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne), he is presently a research associate at the African Centre for Migration and Society (University of the Witwatersrand) in Johannesburg and a recipient of CODESRIA’s (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa) 2018/2019 Meaning-Making Research Initiatives grant. In the past, he has held positions as writing fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study, as Senior Researcher at the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, at the South African Institute of International Relations, as joint postdoctoral fellow at the African Studies Centre and International Institute for Asian Studies at Leiden University, and as Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Geography at the Sorbonne in Paris. His current co-authored book project is entitled “(Un)writing Chinese space – Conversations about the urban in Johannesburg and in Lusaka”.
During his time at the Center for the History of Global Development, he be will focusing on two writing projects, both dealing with the extent to which material changes in the urban fabric impact on practices and collective life. Empirically situated in Johannesburg, a large metropolis in Africa, both papers add to scholarly debates on the repercussions of ‘development’ from an urban angle. The first one is focused on a large-scale and long-term urban development initiative, and symbolizes a deliberate effort taken by local government to promote socio-economic development and spatial change through targeted policies and interventions. The second one looks at the transformations of the built environment along a suburban street following the arrival of Chinese migrants, investing their own capital and pursuing their own vision of urban development. Viewed together, the juxtaposition of these two cases studies (and writing projects) contributes to discussions about different interpretations of development and urbanity, as well as what constitutes ‘successes’ or ‘failures’.