Daniel Mains, Under Construction: Technologies of Development in Urban Ethiopia. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019. xiii + 225 pages Paperback, $25.95.

AuthorMadzudzo, Elias
PositionArticle 15

Under Construction is a study in the anthropology of development, comprising six chapters interwoven around three intersecting central themes: 1) the state; 2) materials; and 3) citizens or labor. The citizens, by a case study of the cities of Hawassa and Jima, encounter the state as they interface with: hydroelectric dams, asphalt roads, three-wheeled motorcycle taxis, and cobblestone roads.

Daniel Mains' main argument revolves around the fact that Ethiopia, in many ways, is modernizing through the construction of infrastructure. The book argues that construction and attendant processes provide an analytic framework for understanding change: "complex intersections between the agency of humans and technologies, and their implications for different forms of inequality" (p.24). An eclectic optic of historical and vital materialism facilitates an appreciation of the nexus between human and technology agency. An emergent lesson is that for Ethiopia or other developmental states, technological development latently and openly benefits elite classes but may disturb the multifarious and contradictory practices of everyday life of the subalterns.

Four component arguments are used to bring out the state, society, and technology nexus to the fore. Under Construction argues that state led infrastructural development at one level is used to create symbols of a society moving towards modernity. On another level this development is instrumentally used as a political stratagem in two major ways. First, construction is used to reinforce a dominant ideological superstructure that secures legitimacy for the political dispensation of the day, for instance, through dovetailing project completion with national elections or re-christening donor-funded construction projects as government projects. Second, infrastructure also encapsulates the present initiatives in the past, e.g. as a patriotic continuation of the vision of the late president Meles Zenawi. However, for all the development linked construction projects there is an intersection of diverse interests and priorities, reflected in relocations; elitist town planning regulations, and general disproportionate realization of benefits and costs of development. Construction is therefore an arena for exploring the nexus between citizens (or labor), the state, and attendant materials or technologies where subterranean relations materialize. The infrastructural developments are used by the state as a secular...

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