CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: New Ethnographies of Johannesburg

Sunday, 15 June, 2014 - 12:00

New Ethnographies of Johannesburg

The Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research invites you to submit an abstract for its forthcoming Symposium on New Ethnographies of Johannesburg.

This Symposium is the first of its three-year interdisciplinary research program “Curating the Afropolitan City”.

The Symposium will take place on the 12-13 August 2014 at WISER, 6th Floor, Richard Ward Building, East Campus, University of the Witwatersrand.


During the last decade of the 20th century, a significant body of work has thrown into doubt the concept of “the city” as a universal object or category of analysis as well as traditional approaches to urban development and human settlements. This reappraisal has been caused partly by the emergence, in the global South, of megacities and mega-regions whose density, massive spatial expansion, sheer scale of population, high levels of risk and great wealth disparities have been accompanied by dynamic and unexpected modes of urban growth. Such is the case of Johannesburg.

The latter has continued to expand in a relatively uncontrolled, decentralized if not random way. Today the city is better understood as a largely de-territorialized mega-region with multiple urban enclaves and myriad links with the Continent and the world at large.  Its many public spaces are increasingly privatized. Novel patterns of trans-regional migration link it to Lagos, Kinshasa, Nairobi, Mumbai, Shanghai, Maputo and Sao Paulo. Original forms of settlement, membership and corporate organization (including squatter camps, gated communities) and high consumption are transforming its economic and cultural fabric, paving the way for the emergence of highly stylized, hybrid and creolized forms.  Visible and invisible networks of social and economic exchange participate in, but are also separate from the mainstream flows of global capital, real and fictitious. One of its defining features is not only its disjunctive geography, but also the way in which humans and non-humans are linked together in heterogeneous and often unrecognized assemblages that contribute to the making of a uniquely modern urban form.

The aim of this new cycle of research is to map and to interpret these new assemblages and the new nexus of nature, culture and finance as well as a different politics of human/non-human/techno-ecological relations. Using concepts and methods borrowed from design and aesthetic theory, architecture, film, digital mapping and curation, it will initiate a cycle of new historical and ethnographic research on the Afropolitan city of Johannesburg. This new cycle of research will bring together scholars, writers, artists, architects, planners and designers. Building on Walter Benjamin model of the “Arcade Project”, this new cycle of research will explore the relationship between contemporary urban forms on one hand, and on the other, the complex technological networks and the organic, geological and biospheric metabolisms that shape them.


We are seeking abstracts on the following (but not exclusive) themes:

Architecture – Advertisement - Art – Airport – Buildings – Cinema - Community – Culture – Clubs – Hotels - Design – Debt - Ecology – Economy – Energy – Environment – Film/Video – Finance – Sandton – Casino - Informal economy - Food – Health – Hospital - Safety – Housing – History – Ideas – Infrastructure – Fashion - Industry - Landscape – Gated communities - Literature – Shopping – Malls – Markets – Medicine – Property - Photography – Planning – Politics – Policy – Preservation – Monuments – Museums – New media - Archive – Popular culture – Music – Magazines - Public – Private – Pentecostalism – Migration – Risk – Sex - Sustainability – Squatter camp - Taxi – Taxes - Technology – Theatre - Transportation –  Trash - TV – Township – Water.


If you are interested in participating in this Platform, please email us an abstract of your paper or presentation (images, films, videos etc…) with a title by no later than June 15, 2014. Notifications of those abstracts accepted will be sent out by June 30, 2014.

Please send your abstract to Najibha Deshmukh at