Urbanization as a global historical process: theory and evidence from sub-Saharan Africa

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Abstract

The process of urbanization has traditionally been understood as a natural
byproduct of economic development. While there is no doubt that economic
expansion in the urban sector can stimulate rural-to-urban migration, hence
urbanization, a strictly economic theory of the process fails to account adequately
for the phenomenon of “urbanization without growth” observed in
sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s and 1990s (Fay and Opal 2000). Inspired by
this apparent anomaly, I propose an alternative, historically grounded theory
of urbanization and deploy it to explain the stylized facts of Africa’s urban
transition, namely the late onset of urbanization vis-à-vis other major lessdeveloped
world regions and the persistence of both urbanization and rapid
urban population growth in the late twentieth century despite economic
stagnation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-310
JournalPopulation and Development Review
Volume38
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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