William Bissell, PhD

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Office:  36 Marquis Hall

Tel.  (610) 330-5191

email: bissellw@lafayette.edu


BA Columbia University

MA, PhD University of Chicago




Indiana University Press is pleased to announce the recent publication of:

Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010)
William Cunningham Bissell

“Contributes to the growing body of work in African urban history and to the study of Zanzibar. . . . Bissell writes beautifully and makes very good use of his archival research.” —Garth Myers, University of Kansas

Across Africa and elsewhere, colonialism promised to deliver progress and development. In urban spaces like Zanzibar, the British vowed to import scientific techniques and practices, ranging from sanitation to urban planning, to create a perfect city. Rather than remaking space, these designs often unraveled. Plans were formulated and then fell by the wayside, over and over again. By focusing on these flawed efforts to impose colonial order, William Cunningham Bissell offers a different view of colonialism and cities, revealing the contradictions, confusion, and even chaos that lay at the very core of British rule. At once an engaging portrait of a cosmopolitan African city and an exploration of colonial irrationality, Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar opens up new perspectives on the making of modernity and the metropolis.

394 pp., 27 b&w illus., 9 maps
cloth 978-0-253-35543-0 $70.00
paper 978-0-253-22255-8 $24.95

For Instructors:  If you are interested in adopting this book for course use, please click here for Indiana University Press’ exam copy policy.

Other Selected Publications 

  • “Burning the Mabanda: Incendiary Acts, Interpretive Frames, and Iconoclash in the Indian Ocean,” African Arts 45(3):70-83 (2012).
  • “When the Film Festival Comes to (Down)Town: Transnational Circuits, Tourism, and the Urban Economy of Images.” In Global Downtowns, Marina Peterson and Gary W. McDonough, eds. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
  • “Urban Sustainability at the Limits: Development Rhetorics and Realities in Tanzania.” Development 54(3):317-324 (2011).
  • “Between Fixity and Fantasy:  Assessing the Spatial Impact of Colonial Urban Dualism.”  Journal of Urban History 37(2):208–229 (2011).
  • From Iraq to Katrina and Back: Bureaucratic Planning as Strategic Failure, Fiction, and Fantasy.” Sociology Compass 2 (5):1431–1461 (2008).
  • “Casting a Long Shadow: Colonial Categories, Cultural Identities, and Cosmopolitan Spaces in Globalizing Africa.” African Identities 5(2): 181-197 (2007).
  • “Engaging Colonial Nostalgia.”  Cultural Anthropology 20(2): 215-248 (May 2005).
  • “Camera Zanzibar.”  In Alternative Modernities.  Dilip P. Gaonkar, ed.  Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.
  • “Conservation and the Colonial Past: Urban Planning, Space, and Power in Zanzibar.” In Africa’s Urban Past. David M. Anderson and Richard Rathbone, eds.  Oxford: James Currey, 2000.
  • “Colonial Constructions: Historicizing Debates on Civil Society in Africa.” In Civil Society and the Political Imagination in Africa. John L. and Jean Comaroff, eds.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.


  • Anthropology of the City
  • Theories of Society
  • Studies in Ethnography: African Modernities
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Politics
  • Medical Anthropology