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

Marco Di Nunzio

Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork, media analysis and interviews carried out between 2013 and 2018, this project is an investigation of the political and moral economies of the construction industry, the sector leading the expansion of African cities.

Conspiracies to Build documents how Addis Ababa’s construction boom is not just generating an economy of capital accumulation and speculation, along with deepening inequality and dispossession.

The boom is also reshaping notions of responsibility and entitlement and, in turn, effectively constraining the emergence of a politics of justice in the city. The project documents the strategies employed by building professionals, such as architects, international experts, urban planners, real estate developers and contractors, to delimit the extents of their individual and corporate responsibilities, and the ways militant union workers, insurgent professionals and ordinary residents seek to break rank to take responsibility for the ways social inequalities are reinforced in the process of urban change. By conceptualising responsibility as a site of political action, Conspiracies to Build is a critique of the professionalisation and judicialisation of responsibility, and an exploration of why individual attempts to refuse, occupy and subvert development constitute the ground for making social justice an objective of urban politics.

Research for this project was funded by the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS), the Foundation Wiener Anspach and LSE Cities 



  • “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