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Book Launches

The South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning within the Wits School of Architecture and Planning, the Chair in Local Histories and Present Realities at the History Workshop, also at Wits, and the African Centre for Cities at UCT held a joint launch of Njogu Morgan and Alexandra Halligey’s new books, with guest speakers, Ruth Oldenziel (Professor in The History of Technology at Eindhoven University of Technology ) and Terry Kurgan (artist and writer based in Johannesburg, editor and partner of Fourthwall Books and Research Associate of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research). The launch was held at Breezeblock Café in Brixton on the 27th of February 2020.

Cycling Cities: the Johannesburg Experience

Johannesburg was once a cycling city; commuting by bicycle was a pervasive practice even among the social elite.  The book seeks to explain how and why commuting by bicycle found a foothold and then diminished (and seemed to resist efforts to re-embed the practice). It does so through an analytical framework of several interacting dimensions: changes in urban form, role of social movements, presence of alternative modes of transportation, consideration of cycling of traffic policies and the cultural status of cycling.

Bringing Johannesburg’s history of everyday cycling from the archive into the present. Johannesburg today is synonymous with the automobile: highways, robots, the minibus taxi and the 4×4 are emblematic of southern Africa’s economic heart. Challenging a future locked in to these spatial patterns is a key policy goal today, reflected in the efforts of the city, province and civil society to offer more and better alternatives to car dominance. Yet other mobility cultures once beckoned – such as the forgotten history of Johannesburg’s working-class commuter cycling culture. Njogu Morgan’s pioneering archival research has brought this very different Johannesburg to light – one where bicycle lanes crept along the Rand before the first motorway. Cycling Cities: The Johannesburg Experience brings this important and challenging history to a new public, and starts a dialogue between Johannesburg and the cycling histories of a growing number of cities worldwide. It provides a historical context for future discussions about cycling and shows the dynamics behind the governance of cycling in the past. The book tells the human story of how the mobility that bicycles afforded people of colour, and particularly black working-class men, challenged Apartheid dreams of control.

 Cycling Cities book cover

Participatory Theatre and the Urban Everyday in South Africa: Place and Play in Johannesburg

The book takes as its case study a year-long participatory art project run by Alex Halligey in Bertrams, Lorentville and Judith’s Paarl, using primarily theatre and performance practices. The project culminated in a site-specific play modelled on the form of a walking tour through the area, with fictitious tour guide characters and performances installed along the way. The play was performed by a small cast of professional actors alongside local participants. The art project was premised on a correlation between play and place-making – both relying on the repetition of ephemeral, embodied practices. The book analyses how the practices of playmaking were used to engage and learn about the practices of everyday placemaking in the area.

Taking an inner-city suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa as its central case study, the book considers how theatre and performance might be both useful practical tools in considering the everyday city, as well as conceptual lenses for understanding it. The author establishes an understanding of space as ever evolving and formed through the ongoing relationship between things, human and non-human, and considers how theatre and performance offer useful paradigms for learning about and working with city spaces. As ephemeral, embodied, material artistic practices, theatre and performance mirror the nature of everyday life. The book discusses theatre and performance games and placemaking processes as offering valuable ways of discovering daily acts of place-making and providing insights that more conventional research methods may not allow. Yet the book also considers how seeing daily city life as a kind of performance, a kind of theatre in its own right, helps to further understandings of city spaces as ever evolving through complex webs of relationships.  

Book cover Participatory Theatre and the Urban Everyday in South Africa

Photos by Athena Mazarakis, Njogu Morgan, David du Preez and Athena Mazarakis
Politics and Community-Based Research: Reflections from Yeoville Studio

The launch of this edited book on the 29th of October 2019 was a celebration of the Yeoville Studio, with an associated exhibition of Yeoville Studio work from staff and students. Politics and Community-Based Research: Reflections from Yeoville Studio (Wits Press) was edited by Claire Bénit-Gbaffou, Sarah Charlton, Sophie Didier and Kirsten Dormann, and emerged out of the first ‘City Studio’ the WITS School of Architecture and Planning undertook; the City Studio was run by CUBES from 2010 to 2012. City Studios have been highly significant School projects, involving staff and students across many levels of study and disciplines (including from other departments at WITS), in neighbourhood-specific research of relevance to local community partners. The second of these initiatives was Rosettenville Studio run from 2013 to 2015. 

Through themed, illustrated stories of the people and places of Yeoville, the book presents a nuanced portrait of the vibrancy and complexity of a post-apartheid, peri-central neighbourhood that has often been characterised as a ‘slum’ in Johannesburg. These narratives are interwoven with theoretical chapters by scholars from a diversity of disciplinary backgrounds, reflecting on the empirical experiences of the Studio and examining academic research processes. These chapters unpack the engagement of the Studio in Yeoville, including issues of trust, the need to align policy with lived realities and social needs, the political dimensions of the knowledge produced and the ways in which this knowledge was, and could be used.

Yeoville studio book cover