Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

Inside-Out Houses: Urban Belonging and Imagined Futures in Dakar, Senegal

Caroline Mellya1

a1 Anthropology, Smith College

In every neighborhood of Dakar, Senegal, large houses in various stages of construction stand as witnesses to and evidence of transnational movements of labor and capital. These ambitious building projects, funded by Senegalese migrants living and working abroad, have utterly transformed the city landscape, and their pervasiveness leads many Dakarois to assume that everyone must be migrating. Intended as eventual family homes, investment properties, or a combination of the two, the innovative layouts and architectural flourishes of these not-yet houses echo lives lived elsewhere while drawing on local aesthetics and approaches to spatial design. Though some houses seem to near completion within just a year or two, most structures linger for several years or even a decade, slowly eroding as families and hired contractors wait for money transfers from abroad. Some constructions boast newly laid bricks or fresh paint, while others are obscured by overgrown vegetation and debris.


Acknowledgments: This research was funded by the National Science Foundation (SES-0549003), the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program, and the Department of Anthropology at University of California, Irvine. I would like to give special thanks to Tom Boellstorff, Vincent Foucher, Bill Maurer, and Neha Vora for insightful comments on earlier drafts. I am also indebted to three anonymous CSSH reviewers, whose critical readings were tremendously useful. My deepest gratitude is owed to my APIX colleagues and to the many friends and informants who have shaped this essay and the larger research project of which it is a part. All errors and inaccuracies are my own.