"Elsewhere": an essay on borderland ethnography in the informal African city

Article in a refereed journal

Jordanna Matlon, ""Elsewhere": an essay on borderland ethnography in the informal African city", Ethnography, vol. 16, n. 2, June 2015, p. 145-165. doi:10.1177/1466138113513527.


In this article I reflect upon my experience as an ethnographer within the informal African city, which I describe as a borderland. In the contemporary African city informality prohibits peripheral men from achieving manhood, predicated on marriage, which requires steady work. As perpetual social juniors they fantasize about an elsewhere to which an ever-porous world exposes them but which stands in stark contrast to their lived experiences. Black urbanism (Simone, 2010) situates this mediated experience of elsewhere, an imagined global conceived simultaneously as a space of creativity, possibility and disillusionment through its linkages with members of the black diaspora glorified through not productive but consumption-oriented identities. Positing that we are both borderland figures, I discuss my interactions/intersections with peripheral men in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. I consider how my identity as a woman from the African diaspora entailed a direct encounter with this elsewhere, and how this influenced their lives.

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