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Lagos in life: placing cities in lived experience

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 August 2021

Allen Hai Xiao*
Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI53706, USA


Rather than examining what constitutes urban life in a particular city, this paper draws attention to how cities are ‘placed’ along individuals’ life trajectories. The outcome of 15 months of ethnographic research among 102 residents of Lagos's Gowon Estate neighbourhood suggests that Lagos is better understood relationally, through subjective narratives of city life. Given its scale and position among Nigerian cities, the meanings of Lagos to different individuals must be illuminated via an examination of how they ‘place’ those urban places that are important to them – Lagos, hometowns and regional centres – both conceptually and practically within their lived experiences and current livelihoods. In short, this paper exemplifies and advocates a methodology that does not treat cities as a central analytical unit, but instead interprets the meanings of living in cities based on individual inhabitants’ narratives, networks and other aspects of their lived experiences in Lagos and elsewhere.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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The author would like to thank Dr Oliver Coates who discussed this paper at the 2019 African Studies Association Annual Conference in Boston, MA. A special gratitude extends to Prof. Matthew Turner who provided insightful comments on the earlier drafts and recommended the paper for the 2020 African Studies Association Graduate Student Paper Prize, which it won.



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