Urban secrets? Affinities and anthropologies of South African cities

DOI: 10.1080/23323256.2019.1610006
Author(s): Corinne KratzDepartment of Anthropology and Institute of African Studies, United States of America, Jill WeintroubLife in the City Programme, Wits City Institute, South Africa, Noëleen MurrayWits City Institute, South Africa


This paper reflects on the discussions of a collective of academics in and around Johannesburg, Africa’s iconic city built on the extractive capital of gold mining. Captured aptly in William Kentridge’s art film Johannesburg: Second Greatest City after Paris (1989), the city is brought into an imaginary relationship with a romanticised Parisian experience. This comparison is taken up through an endeavour to read, re-read, imagine and re-imagine Johannesburg in relation to visions of the French capital contained in the writings in Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project with its “convolutes” of the Parisian arcades of the nineteenth century. The authors locate these discussions within debates addressed to urban anthropology in South Africa now, delving into the theories, methods and insights presented in a scholarly meeting and associated city tour held in 2017, and through the papers submitted for this special issue. This essay considers how an authorial collaboration comprising an anthropologist, historian and an architect might contribute differently to debates current in the spatial disciplines and anthropology, and how such a multi-disciplinary reading of a seminal text about a European city might resonate with our location in Southern Africa.

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