Conspiracies to build. The political and moral economy of construction booms

Marco Di Nunzio

Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork and interviews carried out between 2013 and 2020, this project is an investigation of the political and moral economies of the construction industry, the sector leading the expansion of African cities.

Research for this project was funded by the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS), the Foundation Wiener Anspach and LSE Cities. Thanks to a Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust, Marco is currently finalising a book manuscript exploring how and why government and corporate investments in the built environment have helped enforce unequal hierarchies of entitlement, rewards and rights that make experiences of exclusion the terms of poor people’s integration in urban development.

Conspiracies to Build narrates examines growth, marginality and urban inequalities from the perspective of city builders shaping processes of urban change in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia): architects, planners, policymakers, “experts”, contractors, and real estate developers. By documenting city builders’ strategies, discourses and the impact of their actions in the livelihoods of ordinary residents, this project answers fundamental questions about why urban development correlates with deepening inequalities and who is responsible for those inequalities.

By transcending standardized narrations on the building sector and its negative effects on the urban as revolving around endemic corruption and wilful corporate evil, Conspiracies to Build shows that city builders’ understandings of the economically necessary and the politically urgent as well as of their moral roles and responsibilities in the city have contributed to shape experiences of urban exclusion. On one hand, city builders delimit the extent of their responsibility within the remits of professional ethics and business practice.  On the other hand, commitments to infrastructural development have gained city builders moral and political leverage, empowering them to make their definition of development hegemonic and, ultimately, silence demands for higher wages on construction sites and affordable housing in the city as politically irrelevant, impossible to achieve, and inconsonant with economic necessity.



  • “Inside a Construction Boom: Politics, Responsibility and the Temporalities of Development”. 8th European Conference in African Studies (Edinburgh, 11 – 14 June 2019).
  • “Informality, Urban Space and Infrastructure”. African Centre for Cities Urban Conference (Cape Town, 1 – 3 February 2018).
  • “Inside a Construction Boom. Politics, Responsibility and the Temporalities of Development”. Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Mondes Contemporains – Free University of Brussels (14 November 2017). Funded by Fonds de le Recherche Scientifique (F.R.S-FNRS) 


  • ‘Urban Development in Addis Ababa: An Interview with Marco Di Nunzio’, Foundation Wiener Anspach Website, 14 October, 2014