Monrovia Modern

Urban Form and Political Imagination in Liberia

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 101 illustrations, incl. 96 in Published: November 2017

Author: Danny Hoffman

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Geography

In Monrovia Modern Danny Hoffman uses the ruins of four iconic modernist buildings in Monrovia, Liberia, as a way to explore the relationship between the built environment and political imagination. Hoffman shows how the E. J. Roye tower and the Hotel Africa luxury resort, as well as the unfinished Ministry of Defense and Liberia Broadcasting System buildings, transformed during the urban warfare of the 1990s from symbols of the modernist project of nation-building to reminders of the challenges Monrovia's residents face. The transient lives of these buildings' inhabitants, many of whom are ex-combatants, prevent them from making place-based claims to a right to the city and hinder their ability to think of ways to rebuild and repurpose their built environment. Featuring nearly 100 of Hoffman's color photographs, Monrovia Modern is situated at the intersection of photography, architecture, and anthropology, mapping out the possibilities and limits for imagining an urban future in Monrovia and beyond.


Monrovia Modern is a beautiful and perceptive book. It will appeal to both architecture and anthropology scholars concerned with ruins, violence, material culture, photography and West African politics.” — Pauline Destree, Allegra Lab

"As a crucial intervention to visual ethnography, Hoffman’s work also reminds us that Africans are media consumers as well. . . . They are astute participants in the production and circulation of images of African violence. Through his commitment to photo writing as both theory and method, Hoffman tells us that photography is both a constitutive element of modern architecture as well as the character of African modernity." — Zachary Mondesire, African Studies Quarterly

"A beautiful book that weaves together urban theory, architectural comprehension, photographic excellence, and rich anthropological immersion in the lives of Monrovians. . . . Few books are as ambitious or as creative as this one. . . . Monrovia Modern will likely inspire scholars looking to combine photography, architectural design and critical social theory." — Jeffrey W. Paller, Journal of Modern African Studies

"Brave venture of a book.  . . . A pioneering work in the way it combines different methods, media, and disciplines. . . . Hoffman’s newest is a beautiful work that one truly enjoys reading." — Ilmari Käihkö, Anthropos

"Danny Hoffman provides us with new empirical insights on West Africa, and a fascinating and original way of thinking the city that can inspire future scholarship." — Maarten Bedert, African Studies Review

"Hoffman’s great contribution in this book is to point us toward the central importance of the built environment in preparing the scene for creating politics in the second and third decades after war’s end." — Mike McGovern, Journal of African History

"Hoffman’s book encourages fruitful thought about the politics of architecture and urban dwelling. . . This volume is rewarding reading." — Anne S. Lewinson, International Journal of African Historical Studies

"Urban modernity was always about inhabiting the interstices concretized by the tensions between political imaginations and built forms. Monrovia is replete with forms that impose or elude, often arbitrarily without narrative. Danny Hoffman engages lives that treat the city’s ruining and remaking of modernity as bookends for an incessant hesitation, perhaps inability, to commit to invented futures of any stripe. In this hesitation there can only be a politics of lives enduring inexplicable, fragile yet stalwart orders persisting beyond their material ruin." — AbdouMaliq Simone, author of For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities

“In this adventurous and provocative book, Danny Hoffman sets out on new theoretical and methodological paths to capture ‘urbanity’ within the modernist ruins of postwar Monrovia. Stepping away from the lenses of poverty, corruption, and infrastructural decay through which the African city is so often viewed, Hoffman takes Monrovia’s inhabitants’ lives seriously on their own terms and in light of the impossible possibilities imposed upon them by the liberating dreams of modernist architecture.” — Filip de Boeck, author of Kinshasa: Tales of the Invisible City


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Danny Hoffman is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington and the author of The War Machines: Young Men and Violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia, also published by Duke University Press. As a photojournalist, he documented conflicts in southern Africa and the Balkans from 1994 to 1998.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations  xiii
Preface  xvii
Acknowledgments  xxiii
Introduction  1
1. Live Dangerously, My Brothers: Ex-Combatants and the Political Economy of Space  33
2. The Ministry of Defense: Excessive Architecture  61
3. E. J. Roye: The Corporate (Post)Modern  91
4. Hotel Africa: The Uncritical Ruin  115
5. Liberia Broadcasting System: Three Utopias  143
6. Finding Urban Form: A Coda  175
Notes  183
References  189
Index  203
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner of the John Collier Jr. Award for Still Photography, presented by the Society for Visual Anthropology

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5884-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6357-6
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