Conference proceedings

urban life cover

The politics of urban life:

Social activism and the city of Johannesburg
JIAS and Wits City Institute, June 2016


IN September 2015, JIAS and the Wits City Institute hosted a three-day interdisciplinary workshop entitled ‘Performative urbanisms and the city of Johannesburg – fighting for and over the city; expressing the city; knowing the city’.

Organised in partnership with the editors of the international journal Thesis Eleven: Critical Theory and Historical Sociology; the Thesis Eleven Centre for Cultural Sociology at La Trobe University in Melbourne; and the Chair of Culture and Society at Curtin University in Perth, it provided academics, analysts, activists, artists, and other participants with an opportunity to explore a range of themes around Johannesburg and its visual, spatial, textual and especially performative representations, in the context of its functioning as a major global city.

A key intention of the workshop was to pay attention to knowledge produced in and of the city from beyond the academy. In line with this, the first session, entitled ‘The politics of urban life – personal confessions’, provided a space for engaging with the struggles and experiences of social activists working in a range of organisations and institutions in and around the city. Their contributions are encapsulated in this volume.

It also features images sourced from South Africa’s corpus of documentary photography, as well as two participatory photographic projects entitled ‘Working the City: Experiences of Migrant Women in Inner-city Johannesburg’ (2010); and ‘Volume 44’ (2013), in which migrant women sex workers in Johannesburg and other urban centres were assisted to take photographs illustrating their lives and circumstances, and to develop narratives around them.

The publication has been funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, via the Wits City Institute, part of the Mellon Architecture, Urbanism and Humanities Initiative at the University of the Witwatersrand.

A limited number of hard copies soon will be available from the Wits City Institute. To download a desktop version, click here.